News Local/State

Federal Government to Buy Thomson Prison


An Obama administration official says the federal government is going to buy a state prison in western Illinois as a facility that will hold high-security inmates.

The official said no detainees from Guantanamo Bay will be transferred to the under-used state prison in Thomson, 150 miles west of Chicago.

The official said the acquisition is an answer to serious overcrowding problems at the federal government's high-security prisons, which the official said are 50 percent over capacity.  The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan.

Illinois' top leaders say the purchase price is $165 million.

Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn also announced the sale Tuesday, saying federal officials decided to go around Wolf and act on their own authority. Durbin says it's an unusual move but not illegal.

The prison's sale has been stalled for years, most recently because of opposition from a Virginia Republican who chairs a subcommittee overseeing the Bureau of Prisons.

In 2009, the federal government began considering buying Thomson to hold a limited number of the Gitmo prisoners. Republicans opposed the idea and federal law now prohibits any such transfers to Thomson.

Congressman Frank Wolf rejected the sale request because he believed terrorism suspects would be housed there. Federal officials say that's not true.

Thomson was built in 2001. Budget troubles kept it from fully opening. It has 1,600 cells but housed fewer than 200 inmates before closing to prepare for a sale.

Congressman Wolf is blasting the Obama administration's decision to move forward with the prison sale. 

Wolf says he's deeply troubled by the sale. He says it's an "unprecedented directive'' to "circumvent Congress.''