THOMSON – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos said Thursday that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is ready to start the process of opening Thomson prison but they are waiting for approval of the federal budget first.
Durbin and Bustos met with about 40 residents at a school in Thomson in northwestern Illinois to give an update on the status of the facility. The state of Illinois owned the prison but never fully opened it. The federal government bought it for $165 million last fall.
The Daily Gazette in Sterling reported that when the prison opens as a federal facility it is expected to employ 1,100 people and have an economic impact on Whiteside, Lee and Ogle counties.
The U.S. Senate's Appropriations Committee approved funding in July to reactivate Thomson. But President Barack Obama has yet to sign a new budget including that money.
Bureau of Prisons official Bill Dalius, who attended the Thomson meeting, said the agency is committed to opening Thomson and once Obama signs a budget including the funding for the prison, the bureau will move quickly.
"It's a high priority for the Bureau of Prisons," Dalius said. "Nothing else is under construction anywhere."
Federal officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, have said opening Thomson as a federal facility would help alleviate prison overcrowding.
Thomson residents remained skeptical about the timeline, and Durbin said he wanted to give them "fair warning."
"We've heard the same story before," village Trustee Les Mitchell said. "We're going on 13 years. It's always been, 'Yeah, we're going to do it.' Of course, that was always the state before."
The state of Illinois built Thomson prison in 2001. But budget troubles kept it from fully opening, and its 1,600 cells housed fewer than 200 inmates before the facility was closed in preparation for a sale. The last inmates were moved out in 2010.