The Briggs family came to the Rock River Valley in about the mid-1880s when Clare was nine. They came from his birthplace in Wisconsin; Reedsburg, (1875), a town near Baraboo where Ringling Brothers Circus and others made their winter quarters. His first love as wanting to be in a circus as a clown or trapeze artisté. He wondered in later years if the colorful life of the circus inspired him to become an artist-cartoonist.
Sparse Attendance at COGFA Marathon Hearing for Thomson Prison ‘Closing’
Tony Carton For The Prairie Advocate News
The 12-member Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability held a public hearing in Sterling on Tuesday, December 22, to gather information on the proposed sale of the Thomson Correctional Center. (PA photos/Tony Carton)
More than 300 people filed into the Sterling High School auditorium Tuesday, December 22, 2009 to participate in the sole public hearing on the proposal to close and sell the Thomson Correctional facility to the federal government.
A relatively small group of very vocal opponents repeatedly disrupted the hearing as Illinois Governor Quinn’s chief operating officer, Jack Levin, Illinois Department of Corrections Director Michael P. Randle, and Illinois State Police Director Jonathon Monken reported to the Illinois 12-member Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability on the various aspects of the proposed closing.
About 50 people asked to testify in what became a marathon 7-hour session.
The Commission said it would not hold its non-binding vote on a recommendation to sell the prison before Jan. 14 and Quinn, who was traveling to Germany to hand-deliver hundreds of holiday cards made by Illinois schoolchildren for Illinois service members did not attend the meeting. Quinn’s absence prompted criticism from opponents who complained that they were not able to comment to the panel before he decided earlier to sell the prison to the federal government.
The State of Illinois built the 1,600 cell Thomson facility in 2001 at a cost of $145 million, but budget issues kept it from fully opening. State officials say that the prison currently houses about 200 minimum-security inmates.
Balancing security and economics
Levin told the commission that the Thomson facility would become the most secure federal prison in the nation.
“As commander of the Illinois National Guard, Governor Quinn is acutely aware of the safety and security of our cities and our state,” Levin said. “He would never do anything to put his people at risk.”
He added that the Illinois State Police and the heads of three main Illinois law enforcement organizations have done an extensive risk analysis study with federal law enforcement officials.
“They strongly believe that with the appropriate federal support the operation of this facility can be accomplished without any increased risk to the public,” Levin said.
He noted that the Department of Defense will not authorize detainees to receive visitors with the exception of law enforcement personnel, legal representation, and organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“No detainees transferred from Guantanamo to the United States will be released domestically,” Levin said. “No detainees transferred to Thomson will be tried in Illinois Federal Courts.”
Levin also said that Illinois could not afford and did not need to operate the prison.
“During this historic fiscal crisis, after investing $128 million to build this state-of-the-art facility we simply don’t have the $54 million to operate it on an annual basis, nor does the need to do so exist,” he said. “What does exist is an acute need for jobs in Northwest Illinois and this would provide an enormous boost to our state.”
He said that the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimate that operation of the Thomson Prison as a federal facility will generate up to 3800 jobs and more than $1 billion of economic activity in Illinois in its first four years.
Monken told the commission that in the last month a contingent of 53 Police Chiefs and County Sheriffs met in Thomson to discuss security issues that may arise with the opening of the proposed Federal Maximum Security Prison.
“I have personally spoken with representatives of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Defense, The National Counter Terrorism Center, Illinois and Federal joint terrorism task forces, and representatives of the Illinois congressional delegation in order to continue to address these issues,” Monken said. “We have a world-class intelligence center in Illinois and the full resources of that facility will be brought to bear in order to continue addressing any threat to the State of Illinois.”
Monken added that the security of the United States and of Illinois is of the utmost importance.
“The overall net threat to the United States and Illinois would be reduced by closing Guantanamo because of its nature as a recruiting symbol for terrorists,” he said.
Monken said that the prison expects to house as many as 100 to 150 detainees and that those numbers would bring increased risk to the area.
“There will be increased risk, but Illinois law enforcement will mitigate those risks,” he said.
Tightening the purse strings
That same day in Washington, U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) released the following statement regarding a proposal to move terrorist detainees from Guantanamo to the United States:
“The American people and a bipartisan majority of the Congress have already rejected bringing terrorists to U.S. soil for long-term detention, and current law prohibits it. The administration has failed to explain how transferring terrorists to Gitmo North will make Americans safer than keeping these terrorists off of our shores at the secure facility in Cuba.”
McConnell’s office promised that the GOP would employ a delaying approach to funding the Thomson facility.
Nearly as many media and security personnel as concerned residents participated in the sparsely attended Illinois Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability in Sterling Tuesday, December 22.