Report: Ill. prison deal could create 3,000 jobs

AP News
Posted: Nov 22, 2009 7:46 PM

A deal to house Guantanamo Bay detainees at a northwestern Illinois prison could bring nearly 3,000 jobs to the area, a White House analysis says.

Residents from the seven-county area surrounding the Thomson, Ill, prison would be "excellent candidates" for up to 1,400 of the jobs generated in the deal's first year, according to the report by the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

The report comes as officials from the federal Bureau of Prisons and the Illinois Department of Corrections toured the facility Saturday, along with Democratic lawmakers from Illinois and Iowa.

"It's a great gathering from both sides of the river, Illinois and Iowa, folks who understand how desperately we need jobs in this area," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. "There are too many people out of work, there are businesses closing down because people are out of work. They need paychecks."

Converting, opening and running Thomson as a federal facility would create 840 to 910 temporary jobs and between 3,180 and 3,880 ongoing jobs over the first four years, according to the White House report. Jobs not filled by local residents would go to people who relocate to the area.

The Department of Defense and Bureau of Prisons would turn the facility into a federal prison to be used to relocate detainees. Thomson is about 150 miles west of Chicago and was built by the state in 2001 with 1,600 cells. But budget problems prevented it from fully opening, and it now houses about 200 minimum-security inmates.

Republican lawmakers largely oppose the plan, raising questions about the safety of housing terrorism suspects and the deal's true economic impact.

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Dubuque, Iowa, and others said those fears are unfounded.

"The time for fear-mongering is over," Braley said. "I have listened to my constituents all week, and they have told me with a resounding voice they want these jobs to come to their area."