THOMSON, Ill. — Thomson residents have been waiting a long time for the jobs and economic growth that were to come with the Thomson Correction Center, built in 2001 and still almost vacant.
The question they are grappling with now is whether the need for those jobs outweigh concerns about the community’s safety.
A proposal to sell the 1,600-bed prison to the federal government for use as federal prison, including a new home for terrorism suspects currently detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was the talk of the town Sunday.
Rosie Rojas, a waitress at the Sunrise Restaurant just east of the prison, said customers had been talking about the proposal since it became public Saturday. While the potential to create more than 3,000 jobs has some local residents excited about the possible impact on the local economy, others worry about the safety of the community if Thomson becomes a home for terrorism suspects, she said.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t know if they want the terrorists here,” she said.
Rojas said she wasn’t sure having terrorism suspects kept at the prison would pose any more of a threat to the community than the kind of prisoners who would be there if it served its original purpose as a maximum-security state prison.
Even if promised upgrades in the prison’s security were made, Rojas said her husband still might not want her working at a restaurant located so close to the prison.
Fellow waitress Maggie Rice said she thought the plan would be good for the local economy and didn’t share others’ concerns about safety.
“I’m not really worried about that,” she said. “They can’t get out. And even if they do, where are they going to go?”
Gail and Larry Head of Port Byron said they lived in Thomson for 27 years before leaving the community five years ago. Gail Head said she is glad she wouldn’t be near terrorism suspects, but she would be fearful for family members still living in the area.
Larry Head said the small town of 600 people is not equipped to handle terrorism suspects.
“Keep them where they’re at in Cuba,” he said. “It’s a good place for them.”
There have been several plans over the years to better utilize the prison, which currently holds about 200 minimum-security inmates. None of those plans have been implemented because the state has lacked the money to open the facility fully.
Rojas said there is more confidence in the community that the new proposal will become a reality because of the involvement of the federal government, but the skepticism of a town that has been down this road many times before remains.
“We’re not going to get our hopes up,” she said.