Guantanamo transfers would bring hope, jobs to Ill. prison town
One of several sites on US list
THOMSON, Ill. - Some folks in this dying Mississippi River town would rather take their chances with suspected terrorists in their backyard than watch their neighbors continue to move away in despair over the lack of jobs.
News that the federal government may buy the nearly empty Thomson Correctional Center and use the maximum-security state prison to house Guantanamo Bay detainees has given people in Thomson hope that things might be about to turn around in this town of 450.
“This town is slowly but surely dying off, and I mean that literally, because the people that are retired are dying off and there’s no young people coming back in to take their place. There’s nothing here to draw them,’’ said Richard Groharing, a 68-year-old retired Florida corrections officer who was born in Thomson, a farming community about 150 miles west of Chicago.
The prison was built in 2001 with the promise of thousands of jobs. But because of state budget problems, it has been largely vacant since its completion. It has 1,600 cells but only about 200 minimum-security inmates are held there.
The Obama administration wants to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and transfer some terrorism suspects to the United States for trial. Yesterday, federal officials were at the Thomson prison to inspect it and meet with state and local authorities.
The administration has also considered sending Guantanamo detainees to other locations in the country, including the maximum-security prison in Standish, Mich., where many residents also have welcomed the idea in the hope that it would spur jobs.
Other possible sites are in Florence, Colo., and Hardin, Mont. US officials have not given a date for their decision.
Harley Lappin, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, said yesterday that the federal agency would hire 800 to 900 people if Thomson is chosen, including about 250 to 300 people from other facilities to get the system up and running quickly.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and others estimate a federal takeover would create as many as 3,000 jobs in all, counting the new businesses created.