US Officials Consider Illinois Prison to House Detainees

Relocating Guantanamo detainees could boost small community

Thompson, Illinois
Thompson, Illinois

When President Barack Obama announced he planned to close the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that raised the question -- where to send the facilities' terrorist suspects.  Lawmakers in several states with suitable facilities say they don't want them.  But some lawmakers and residents in tiny Thomson, Illinois hope the detainees end up in their town.

When it was built in 2001, the Thomson Correctional Center in western Illinois was supposed to house the hardest criminals in the state.

Instead, it has sat mostly vacant as Illinois descended into a budget crisis.

"This is the second largest capital expenditure the state of Illinois ever made, and it's sitting here idle," said Jonathan Whitney, the publisher of the Carroll County Review.  "We're tiny, we're here in the heart of America, and have been. The paper dates back to 1863.  We cover local news, but in this case, it happens to be national news."

The possible sale of the Thomson Correctional Center to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons puts a spotlight on this small town of roughly 600 people along the Mississippi River.  The facility is among several sites being considered to house the terrorist suspects now held at Guantanamo Bay.

Jerry Hebeler, the Thomson Village president, said, "I know the word terrorist scares a lot of people, which it did me."

But Hebeler also sees the prison as an opportunity to reverse an economic decline in the area. "For 3,000 jobs.  An estimated one billion over four years in revenue.  It would help the economy.  Our unemployment in Carroll County is 10.5 percent.  Maybe that would cut it down in half," he said.

Most people support the idea of job growth in the area.  But newspaper publisher Whitney points out that once the federal government takes control of the prison, residents will have little say about who is incarcerated there.  Detainees from Guantanamo Bay aren't the only concern. "Now along with that federal prison probably comes something that could be much more dangerous, and that could be Colombian drug cartel people or the Mexican drug cartel people," he said.

Jerry Hebeler is trying to temper the concerns of his citizens while offering the town an opportunity to grow. "We need to be safe.  We need to give people hope.  We need to give people opportunities to keep their families here.  This is our shot to do all three," he said.

Town officials here stress that no decision has yet been made by the U.S. government to purchase this facility.  They also add that facilities in Michigan, Montana, and Colorado are also under consideration.

Kane Farabaugh

Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs