A key House subcommittee chairman said Tuesday he does not trust Justice Department assurances that a facility once slated for Guantanamo Bay detainees would now be used only to help alleviate overcrowding in U.S. prisons.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee, told Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin at a hearing that he does not support DOJ plans to use a Thomson, Ill., correctional facility for maximum-security prisoners.
The Thomson facility initially was considered as a location to house Guantanamo Bay detainees as part of President Barack Obama’s efforts to close the military prison in Cuba. But Congress last year banned the transfer of the prisoners to U.S. soil during fiscal 2011, which ends on Sept. 30.
The DOJ is requesting in its $28.2 billion fiscal 2012 budget request about $67 million to activate the facility, which the Department has yet to buy. The Department also requested in its fiscal 2011 budget $237 million to purchase the prison. But Congress has yet to approve a fiscal 2011 budget for the DOJ.
Lappin told Wolf that using the facility for Guantanamo Bay detainees is “not the case now.” Wolf jumped on the director’s remark, commending him for his “conscience.”
“The confidence level in the Attorney General and the Bureau of Prisons and the administration on this issue is not very high because they were going to go there,” Wolf said.
The Bureau of Prisons cares for about 200,000 inmates and is expected to take in thousands of more prisoners in the next year, Lappin said.
The DOJ will have to take general-population prisons and renovate them for maximum security inmates if Congress doesn’t allow them to use the Thomson facility, Lappin said. Without Thomson, he said, prisons will become more crowded.
Wolf seemed unimpressed.
The Republican said the Bureau of Prisons should devote its energy to reducing recidivism through prison work programs and rehabilitation in addition to working on proposals for early releases.
“I don’t think the Bureau of Prisons ought to get so wrapped up in Thomson,” Wolf said.
Lappin said his agency is working on early release proposals, has programs in place to help reduce recidivism and supports further efforts in those areas. But he stressed the importance of increased funding for the Bureau of Prisons.
“We cannot get through this fiscal year at [the fiscal 2010] level,” Lappin said.