Durbin, Bustos Say Thomson Prison Will Open if Budget Passes
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (C) speaks with Carroll Co. Democrat Chairman Gerald Bork and his wife, Doris, during the Thomson Prison briefing. (PA photos/Tom Kocal)
By TOM KOCAL | Prairie Advocate News
Watch the video of the Briefing Below
THOMSON – Thomson Village President Vicki Trager welcomed U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) to a meeting held September 6, 2013 with area community leaders to brief them on the progress and next steps in the activation of Thomson Prison. The two were accompanied by Bill Dalius, the Assistant Director for Administration of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), who oversees facility and budget development for the agency. The meeting was held at the West Carroll Intermediate School.
Besides Village of Thomson leaders, others in attendance included IL Sen. Tim Bivins, Representatives Jim Sacia and Mike Smiddy, Carroll Co. Sheriff Jeff Doran, and West Carroll Supt. Craig Mathers.
They agree that federal officials remain committed to opening the vacant prison, but securing funding remains a key obstacle in getting the facility up and running for the first time in its 13-year existence.
Dalius said once President Barack Obama signs a budget this fall, including the money for the Thomson Prison, the bureau “will move quickly.”
IL Rep. Mike Smiddy (L) likes what he heard about the potential to finally have the Thomson Prison operational, after hearing from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.
“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.”
But President Barack Obama has yet to sign a new budget including that money. Both Durbin and Bustos say the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is ready to start opening the prison, but they need the money first.
“The Senate and the House have different budgets, “ Durbin explained. “Come October 1, when we are supposed to be in the budget cycle, we are not likely to have an agreement between the House and Senate. In the interest of full disclosure, we are likely to be dealing with a Continuing Resolution - which means continuing this year’s budget for a time - a few days, or weeks, hopefully not months.”
Durbin asked Dalius what impact a Continuing Resolution would have on the prison opening.
“Everything [in the BoP] would remain status quo . . . a small workforce to maintain our $165 million asset that we are obligated to take care of. But hiring will not start beyond that point. We do not have the luxury in our base budget to be able to place resources towards Thomson until we have an appropriations budget passed.”
Durbin confirmed that the project is currently “on hold,” until a “full year budget” is passed.
“I want to give you all a ‘heads-up’ about this situation,” Durbin explained. “People here have been disappointed in the past. I thought the process was going to start last year, then last month. But until we have an agreement between the House, the Senate, and the President, about the budget for the next year, we’re going to be ready, but not in a position to spend money.”
“For the people of Thomson and the surrounding area, the activation of this prison has been a long time coming,” Durbin said. “Opening Thomson will bring much-needed jobs and economic growth to Northern Illinois and reduce overcrowding in our federal prison system. The activation process will take time, but . . . I will continue doing everything I can to keep the renovating, equipping and staffing of the prison on track.”
“This area has been hearing about this prison for 16 years . . . and it is still not open,” Bustos said. “This is a priority. Thomson prison would not only alleviate overcrowding in our prison system, but its opening will be an economic boon for our region of Illinois. I’m encouraged that the Iowa and Illinois congressional and senate delegation have all made opening Thomson a priority. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Durbin and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to continue our progress in keeping this job-creating facility on track to open.”
After the meeting, Village President Trager said the news was about what she had expected. “There was nothing earth-shattering, but it is encouraging. For so long, we have waited. People were getting cynical. It was good to hear from them that they fully support the opening. It was also good to hear that Thomson is a priority to the Bureau of Prisons because it is the only maximum security facility ready to go among the 3 prisons yet to be activated. That puts us at the top of the list.”
Savanna Mayor Tony McCombie agreed, saying the news was “encouraging, and I want to look at the glass as half full, but until that final budget agreement comes through, this is all for nothing. I hope, and I pray, and I’m optimistic. If this was up to our local representation, it would have been opened a long time ago. I’m ready to get this show on the road.”
The Thomson facility was built in 2001 by the State of Illinois as a state-of-the-art, maximum-security prison to house the most severe criminal offenders. The bulk of the facility was never occupied, however, and is sitting vacant. The facility was constructed on a 146-acre piece of land and has 1,600 beds with eight compartmentalized units designed for maximum inmate supervision and control. The facility is enclosed by a 12-foot exterior fence and 15-foot interior fence, which includes a dual sided electric stun fence.
Last month, Durbin and Bustos met in Washington with BOP Director Charles Samuels to discuss Thomson’s activation. In July, the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Durbin sits, approved the FY2014 Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies appropriations bill, which included $166.3 million to begin the activation of Thomson prison and two other prisons, acquire 1,000 private contract beds and to expand a program to reduce recidivism rates. This amount would likely cover the entire cost of upgrades and renovations to the facility. But for now, the bill now moves to the Senate floor for debate and then to a House-Senate Conference Committee, with a budget approved, hopefully, in October or November.