OAB Signed & Sealed, But Will Thomson Prison Be Delivered?
Vicky Trager (rt) Village of Thomson President, was pleased with the commitment to the Thomson Prison at Friday’s press conference. Sharing her enthusiasm are (l to r) Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, IL Rep. Mike Smiddy, and State Sen. Mike Jacobs.
By TOM KOCAL | Prairie Advocate News
ROCK ISLAND – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) joined Thomson Village President Vicky Trager on Friday, Jan. 17, saying that the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill contains funding to activate the Bureau of Prisons’ Thomson Correctional Center and secure a strong future for the Rock Island Arsenal and its +7,000 employees in the region. Durbin and Bustos also announced they have written federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels requesting the agency specifically prioritize Thomson’s timely opening.
Both houses of Congress passed the bill last week on bipartisan votes, and shortly after Friday’s announcement from the Rock Island County Office Building, President Barack Obama signed the 1.1 trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill at the New Executive Office Building, across the street from the White House, effectively ending the threat of a repeat government shutdown.
But what does that mean for the Thomson Prison and the residents of Thomson and Northwest Illinois?
“We now have the money in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to put $25 million into construction right now, this year, for the Thomson Correctional Center,” said Durbin.
After 16 years, progress
Village President Trager was pleased, to say the least, thanking Durbin and Bustos for “championing our cause.”
“Thomson welcomes the good news that the Omnibus Spending Bill was passed, and that it contains funding to begin activation of U.S.P. Thomson. This will be a boon to not only Thomson, but the surrounding area.”
Trager and her husband moved to Thomson permanently in 2001, but said her “roots run deep” in the village. “My heart has always been in this area. Ever since we settled in Thomson, the correctional center has remained vacant. So I have only known the economic consequences of its unfulfilled potential.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin believes the legislation provides adequate funding for the Bureau of Prisons’ full activation of the Thomson Prison.
(PA photos/Tom Kocal)
She added that 12 years ago, many businesses invested in Thomson and the neighboring communities, “ready to provide the goods and services needed by the facility’s staff and visitors. One by one, they have struggled to remain open, trying to hold out. But many just couldn’t do it.”
During that period, the Thomson School District combined with Savanna and Mount Carroll to form the West Carroll District, “but enrollment continues to fall as families leave the area in search of jobs,” Trager said. “As [prison] activation begins, construction workers will bring an immediate impact to Thomson and our neighboring communities. Later, when incoming correctional officers, staff and their families move in, they’re going to need schools, housing, services, and shopping.”
Trager concluded her remarks with a profound question that generated applause and laughter from the audience. “On behalf of Thomson, I would like to say to all of them, ‘Welcome Home. What took you so long?’”
“The people of Northern Illinois have waited too long for the jobs and economic boost that a fully operational Thomson prison will bring,” Durbin said. “Director Samuels has told us he plans to make opening Thomson a priority, and Congresswoman Bustos and I worked to make sure the spending bill which passed this week gives the federal Bureau of Prisons the resources to do so. Today, we are asking the agency to honor its promise and work to activate Thomson as soon as possible.”
Durbin said that the initial hold-up with this project was Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, who chaired the House Appropriations Committee.
“For some reason, Wolf did not like this project at all, and he blocked it every chance he had . . . We are about to keep a promise that was made over 10 years ago. We told the people of this region that we were going to build a new prison, create new jobs . . . We’re going to keep that promise starting this year,” Durbin proclaimed.
Durbin said that the next step will be for the next fiscal year, starting October 1, 2014. $170 million will be needed at that point to get the prison ready for a final opening, reiterating that the omnibus budget is a two-year agreement. “We’re ready to get in the business for the next fiscal year as well, to get the $170 million, which is next.”
In November, Director Samuels reiterated his previously-stated intention to fully activate the Thomson facility in a meeting with Durbin and Bustos. Citing the challenges due to overcrowding at high-security Bureau of Prisons facilities that ultimately put staff, inmates and communities at risk, Samuels said the agency desperately needs the beds at Thomson to alleviate the problem.
“We told him, ‘We’re serious. We want to get this done. This is a promise we need to keep.’ He gave us his assurance that this was their highest priority in the Bureau of Prisons.”
Samuels’ comments mirror those made by Assistant Director for Administration of the Federal BOP Bill Dalius back in September, at a meeting in Thomson. Dalius said once President Barack Obama signs a budget this fall, including the money for the Thomson Prison, the bureau “will move quickly.”
“It’s a high priority for the Bureau of Prisons,” Dalius added. “Nothing else is under construction anywhere.” Dalius added that the federal prison system was extremely overcrowded, and that the Thomson facility will be a welcome addition to the system. “We look forward to coming to Thomson.”
Monday morning, Christina Mulka, Deputy Communications Director for Sen. Durbin in Washngton D.C., confirmed the good news.
“We are waiting for a dollar amount. We are confident the commitment is there. The BOP is required to report back to Congress on their plans to use the funds within 30 days of the bill being signed into law so we should know then if not sooner.”
“This critical bill . . . moves Thomson prison one step closer to opening,” Bustos said Friday. “I’ll continue to work with Senator Durbin and leaders in our bi-state region to ensure our economy continues to stay strong for years to come.”
The appropriations bill contains funding for the activation of prisons in the federal system, though it does not detail which prisons should be prioritized. The full activation of Thomson is expected to take two years at a cost of $25 million for upgrades and renovations and approximately $170 million for equipment and staffing. The federal government’s operation of Thomson is expected to provide a major boost to the local economy and create more than 1,100 jobs.
For the Rock Island Arsenal, the bill requires the Secretary of the Army to maintain a minimum workload at the Arsenal that allows it to maintain critical capabilities and remain healthy. The appropriations bill will also help the Arsenal stay competitive as it bids on additional workload through its partnerships with the private sector by providing additional funding through the Arsenal Sustainment Initiative. In addition, the bill contains a 1% pay raise for both military personnel and all civilian Department of Defense employees. Civilian defense employees have gone four years without a wage increase.