The Illinois State Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability held a public hearing on the proposed sale of the Thompson Correctional Center to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. President Obama has directed the agency to purchase the facility to house terror suspects -- reportedly up to 100 --now held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The hearing was the only chance that those strongly opposed to the plans had a chance to have their voices heard.
In the bitter cold, hundreds of protestors from across the United States converged on a high school in Sterling, Illinois where a state commission was holding a public meeting on the possible sale of a prison, 30 kilometers away, to the federal government. The Thomson Correctional Center would be used to house Guantanamo detainees.
Citizens like Debbie Lee voiced concerns. Her son Marc was a Navy Seal and was killed in Iraq in 2006. She says she visited Guantanamo in 2008, and is against housing terror suspects on U.S. soil. "I'm here today to make sure that they hear my voice and hear what I personally saw down there," she explained. " My son gave up his life fighting terrorists so that we wouldn't ever have them back here in this country again."
The possible sale of Thomson intersects with two major issues: the need to create jobs and state revenue while ensuring security.
At the meeting, Jack Lavin, a top Illinois state official, said housing terror suspects at Thomson prison would help ease high unemployment in the region. "The White House Counsel of Economic Advisors has estimated that up to 3800 jobs and more than one billion of economic activity in Illinois will be generated in just its first four years of operation," he said.
But prison guard Todd Pustelnik said he stands to lose if the federal government takes control of the Thomson facility. "We don't have rights to slide over into the federal prison system. We would have to go ahead and apply just like everyone else, and the requirements to work in a federal facility versus a state facility are a little difficult for me. I'm too old, I'm 44. The cut off age is 37, so that's going to eliminate a lot of the people that work there," Pustelnik said.
Tom Brackemeyer supports the sale. He said Illinois stands to gain more than just jobs as prison guards. "It's not only the jobs inside the prison. It's the jobs it will create outside the prison," he said. "It will expand jobs outside."
Commission members will provide their findings to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn. Even if they oppose the prison's sale, Governor Quinn is not obligated to follow their recommendation.
Quinn has already indicated he favors the sale, which could be completed as early as May 2010.