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Federal Government To Buy Thomson Prison For $165M

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Thomson Prison

The entrance is seen to the Thomson Correctional Center on Nov. 15, 2009, in Thomson, Ill. (Credit: David Greedy / Getty Images)

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Updated 10/02/12 – 9:40 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – The federal government has agreed to buy the vacant Thomson Correctional Center, in western Illinois along the Iowa border, in a move that has been held up for almost three years.

Thomson, which was built in 2001 for $140 million, was never fully opened, and has been closed since 2010. It never held more than 200 inmates while it was open.

CBS 2’s Brad Edwards reports the federal government is buying the facility for $165 million. Officials said the move will bring about 1,100 jobs to Illinois.

Sitting among the cornfields of western Illinois, Thomson has been more than just an empty prison. It’s been a political hot potato for years.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Tuesday at the announcement that the prison would be transferred to the control of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. “We’ve finally reached the point where we said ‘We’ve got to seize the moment.’”

The sale to the federal government was initially held up, because the Obama administration had been eyeing the facility as a possible site for relocating detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.

But the White House has since vowed that won’t happen, and current federal law prohibits transferring any Guantanamo Bay detainees to Thomson.

Most recently, the sale to the feds was held up by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who chairs a key House subcommittee overseeing the federal Bureau of Prisons. Wolf objected to the sale, because he believed it would be used to house terrorism suspects, despite the safeguards already in place to prevent that.

Instead of waiting for an unlikely deal with Wolf, the Department of Justice moved on its own authority to acquire Thomson for the Bureau of Prisons.

The move drew criticism from Wolf, who called the move “deeply troubling,” and an “unprecedented directive” to “circumvent Congress.”

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) agreed.

” The American people do not want Guantanamo detainees in the U.S., and should not have to tolerate the risk of these terrorists residing in their backyards,” he said. “This back-door move by the Obama Administration to open Thomson and reject the will of Congress and the American people is dangerously irresponsible.”

On Tuesday, Durbin reiterated that Thomson could not be used to house any detainees from Guantanamo Bay. He noted those detainees can only be imprisoned at a military facility, since they are considered “illegal enemy combatants.”

“I went to the president, and I said to him ‘You know, and I know Guantanamo detainees aren’t gonna come here. That isn’t the issue. We need these jobs,” Durbin said.

The senator also said getting Wolf’s approval of the move was only a courtesy, not a legal necessity.

At nearby Dusty’s Pizza, Thomson residents seemed skeptical about how much the move would help their community.

“I think people are afraid,” said Dawn Parrish.

“They don’t like a prison in their back yard,” said Dave Zimmerman.

No definitive timeframe has been set on when the prison might be up and running, but it might be fully transferred to the federal government by years end.

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