THOMSON, Ill. — With the Thomson Correctional Facility scheduled to begin housing inmates in November, staff from the Illinois Department of Corrections are busy getting the word out that hundreds of jobs are up for grabs.

A minimum of 524 correction officers will be needed, plus staff such as cooks, teachers and secretarial support. Salary for a corrections officer begins at about $31,000 after a six-month probationary period, plus benefits.

"It's a good package," said Jack Hartwig, the facility's warden.

With so many positions to fill, the Department of Corrections, or DOC, has been targeting towns within a 50-mile radius of the facility for hiring. Hartwig has been working from a temporary office in Savanna since October 1999.

He said DOC staff will discuss positions available, outline the application process and answer questions.

He began heavy recruiting about two months ago. A mid-December informational meeting in Sterling drew about 100 people, Sterling City Manager Jay Weiland said.

"They had a lot of questions about the different positions," Weiland said.

He said that more than 40 pre-applications were filled out that night.

The next informational meeting will be Tuesday night in Morrison. The town's mayor, Robert Atherton, is excited about the possibility of long-term jobs and city growth the prison may bring.

"They need all kinds of people. They're starting from scratch," Atherton said. "This is a really good way to go for a career job."

He's hoping that steady employment will mean more homes purchased in Morrison.

"With all the losses of jobs that we've had we have to jump at whatever we can to bring more employment and jobs to the area," Atherton said.

In addition to recruiting at meetings, Hartwig said approximately 10 to 20 people walk into the prison's temporary office each day asking for information about job opportunities.

Non-security positions have a different application process. For some, applicants need to go through testing, but for others, applicants may be assessed based on their previous work experience.

"It depends on the position you apply for," Hartwig said.

Iowa applicants are welcome, although priority will be given to those residing in Illinois.

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