The congressional fight over funding for Thomson Correctional Center continues as five more Senators have announced their opposition to the Justice Department’s request to acquire the Illinois prison.
The GOP group of senators wrote Attorney General Eric Holder today, saying the department’s funding request is “disappointing” as four other prisons remain vacant.
Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told Holder “it would be a breach of precedent to move forward with your reprogramming proposal and divert valuable resources from other important projects specifically funded by Congress.”
Two weeks ago, the Justice Department made a $165 million reprogramming request to the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Justice Department funding. Its chairman, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) rejected the request with a sharply written letter to the Attorney General, saying he did not trust the department’s “willingness to ignore the law if it is politically expedient.”
Wolf characterized the funding request as an “earmark,” which are banned under House rules. Thomson was once proposed as a facility to house detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay, and although President Barack Obama dropped the idea, Wolf says he is still concerned the department may move to revive the plan.
In its request, the department assured the House it would not transfer detainees to Thomson. A department spokeswoman also said Congress maintains “prohibitions on the use of funds to transfer any of these detainees to the United States.”
The Justice Department has had the backing of Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin (D), who has pushed hard for bringing the prison online. He criticized Wolf for rejecting the request because of “partisan politics and personal feelings.” Durbin, the Senate’s Majority Whip, said the prison would bring 1,100 jobs to Thomson, Ill., and is the only one of the other prisons that can alleviate overcrowding at the supermax center in Florence, Colo.
He told Wolf that he thought Virginia lawmaker’s larger political battle with Holder “obscures your ability to see this issue on its merits.”
Yet the lawmakers in opposition, who include Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), say Thompson seems to have “jumped the line” in front of the other four prisons. The Bureau of Prisons owns four newly constructed but never opened prisons in Yazoo City, Miss.; Berlin, N.H.; Aliceville, Ala., and Hazelton, W.V. Lawmakers in those states say they, too, could use the boost to the job market from opening the prisons.
“We believe it would be fiscally irresponsible for a cash-strapped agency to purchase an overpriced and decade-old prison while four state-of-the-art prisons owned by BOP remain idle,” the five Senators wrote to Holder today.
Correction 9/8/12: This article incorrectly identified Sen. Richard Shelby’s political party. He is an Alabama Republican. Main Justice regrets the error.