Budget Request for Thomson Prison Doesn’t Mention Terrorists
By Ryan J. Reilly | March 8, 2010 8:58 pm

The Justice Department’s fiscal 2011 budget request asks for funding to buy the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, but the proposal sent to Congress leaves out one key piece: it does not mention that the facility would be used to house accused terrorists currently held at Guantanamo Bay.

Instead, the Bureau of Prisons’ request seeks $170 million to buy and renovate the Thomson, Ill., prison because of inmate crowding conditions at high security facilities.

The vacant Illinois prison is under consideration to house terrorism suspects from the Guantanamo Bay facility. (Getty Images)

“Inmate crowding, especially at high security levels, is at maximum manageable proportions and additional bed space is crucial to provide some relief for staff and inmates,” the request states. “Inmate crowding that is not addressed will continue to endanger staff, inmates, and the community.”

According to a DOJ spokeswoman, the department’s fiscal 2011 budget also requests an additional $67 million to upgrade the facility to a high security federal penitentiary. In all, the DOJ is seeking $237 million for use on the facility.

The Bureau of Prison’s budget proposal says that high security facilities are operating at 51 percent over capacity and that the trend is “projected to worsen in future years, as the population continues to outpace capacity.”

As of May 2009, according to the request, 18,630 high security inmates — or 93 percent of all high security population in federal facilities — were double bunked. Under the BOP standards, no more than 25 percent of high security inmates should be double bunked. The Thomson facility would provide an additional 1,600 high security cells.

The request does mention that prisons have taken on significantly greater risks because of several high-profile terrorists already housed in the federal prison system including former al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, among others.

The final sale of the prison still has several hurdles to overcome. In Illinois, the state legislature voted last month to require the governor to obtain approval from the legislature before selling state properties worth more than $1 million — a new requirement that would apply to the state-owned Thomson facility.

For their part, federal officials have tried to focus on the benefits the purchase would bring to the local community. Harley Lappin, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons told The Christian Monitor that of the 850 to 900 staff positions at the prison, 60 percent would be local. Lappin estimated that 1,200 to 1,700 private-sector jobs will be created as a result of prison activity – all indirect ways the prison will create jobs and reduce unemployment.

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