SPRINGFIELD -- A mostly empty state prison in northwestern Illinois could be purchased by the federal government under a scenario first hinted at Thursday by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The governor, during a campaign stop in the Quad-Cities Thursday evening, said he would announce a proposal for the Thomson Correctional Center within the next few days.

Some officials believe the plan revolves around selling the eight-year-old maximum-security lock-up to the federal government.

"At first, I thought it was a little far-fetched. But, having known Pat Quinn for 30 years, maybe it's not," said state Rep. Mike Boland, an East Moline Democrat.

The 1,600-cell facility was built by the state for $140 million in 2001, but was never fully opened because of budget problems. It now houses about 200 minimum-security inmates.

The Quinn administration did not respond to repeated requests for information about the possible sale. His campaign office also was mum on the subject.

But, it's not the first time selling Thomson to the federal government has been floated as a possible solution for the vacant structure. Boland said he had proposed the idea a few years ago but didn't get anywhere with it.

And, Thomson isn't the first prison in Illinois to be mentioned as a potential site to house detainees from the Guantanamo Bay terrorist prison camp in Cuba.

In June, Marion Mayor Bob Butler suggested the Obama administration look at the federal prison in Williamson County as a facility for terrorist detainees. Guards at the penitentiary also asked U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to investigate the possibility.

During a visit to Decatur Friday, Durbin acknowledged he'd discussed prison-related issues with the administration. But, he did not offer any details about the possible use of Thomson by the federal government.

Thomson Mayor Jerry Hebeler earlier said he wouldn't argue if the federal government wanted to bring terrorist prisoners to the town.

"They can't be any worse than any murderer," Hebeler told the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald in May. "It's maximum security. It's for that."

On Friday, Hebeler said no one had contacted him about the possible federal purchase. "I don't know anything about it," he said.

U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, a Rock Island Democrat, said Quinn told him about two weeks ago that he had some ideas about Thomson, but the two never got into specifics.

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said Friday he's looking forward to what Quinn is planning.

"I'm hoping he's going to say he's bringing in more prisoners," Verschoore said.

Boland said that the Thomson area is hurting economically with high unemployment and poverty, so opening the prison would be great for the city.

"Those will be good paying jobs," he said.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, has been lobbying to get the facility up and running in order to bring jobs to the region around Carroll County. But, he acknowledged the state's dire budget situation leaves Quinn with few options.

"The governor is under a lot of pressure to make some tough decisions," Jacobs said.

While Jacobs is hopeful Quinn is successful in finally bringing Thomson to life, he also said there is reason to be skeptical.

"It is campaign season," Jacobs said.

(Thomas Geyer contributed to this story.)

 

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