The Thomson Correctional Center in rural Northwest Illinois is back in the news.
For those who haven't followed this story, here's a brief recap. Late last year, the White House announced that the near-empty 1,600 bed facility was a potential candidate to house terrorism suspects from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. This caused a collective freak-out among local Republicans, who unleashed a barrage of unhinged attacks on Gov. Pat Quinn and the White House for even considering moving "Jihadists" onto our soil. (Few were much interested in the due process rights of those detainees.)
The Obama administration's Justice Department changed course this past March, alerting the state of its intent to purchase Thomson, regardless of whether Congress decided to allow the transfer of Gitmo inmates. (Since then, lawmakers explicitly barred the feds from doing so.) Earlier this week, the state made clear it was putting the prison up for auction on December 21. Although the state can't legally sell Thomson for under $219.9 million, the U.S. House only appropriated $95 million in next year's budget to cover the cost. The White House wants its bid figure increased in the U.S. Senate.
AFSCME Council 31, which represents Illinois prison guards, says the low-ball is another indication that Illinois should keep hold of its asset and use the space to relieve prison crowding in its penitentiary system. The governor, according to the Sun-Times, has "ruled out making use of the prison for state inmates." While short-term fixes like the option AFSCME offers are logical, we'd like to see the state pursue forward-thinking criminal justice reforms that will reduce Illinois' surging prison population once and for all. Re-instituting the "Meritorious Good Time" early release program is a good place to start.