THOMSON — Full activation of the federal prison in Thomson will come by the end of 2019, congressional officials said Wednesday.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Illinois Democrats, along with Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, said the federal Bureau of Prisons has finalized the mission for the prison as a combination high-security facility with a specialized unit.
The state of Illinois sold the prison to the federal government in 2012, but it has operated far below capacity.
In a news release Wednesday, the Illinois lawmakers said they and their staffs met with the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, Hugh Hurwitz, on Wednesday and he had committed to full activation by the end of 2019.
The lawmakers said the new facility would employ up to 600 people by then.
“This announcement is an overdue but positive step that will help bring jobs to Thomson and support economic development in the region while also helping address our federal prison overcrowding crisis,” Duckworth said in a statement.
Jared Smith, a spokesman for Bustos, said a special management unit currently located in Pennsylvania will be moved to Thomson. Such units handle disruptive prisoners.
There are just over 300 prisoners at Thomson facility now, with about 250 people working there, Smith said.
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At full activation, the prison is expected to hold 1,600 to 2,300 inmates, he added.
The high security inmates are due to arrive at the prison late this year, with the transfer of the special management operation due to be complete in December, 2019.
Congressional officials say they have been trying to get the Bureau of Prisons to finalize what the mission for the prison will be, but have had a hard time getting that accomplished. Wednesday’s announcement, they said, is a positive development.
“We have worked hard to help ensure a mission for the hardworking men and women at Thomson and I’m proud that we’re delivering on this promise by creating hundreds of new, good-paying jobs,” Bustos said in the statement.
The Obama administration had first proposed opening Thomson as a home for foreign detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That was in 2009. But after congressional and some public protest, that plan was abandoned and instead the administration sought to buy it to alleviate prison overcrowding.
Officials said even without the foreign detainees, and the hundreds of military jobs that would have gone along with it, the federal prison would create 1,000 jobs in the area. The transfer to the federal government was delayed, though, because of congressional roadblocks.
Thomson was first built nearly 20 years ago as a state prison but didn’t open because of a lack of operating funds.