If it had been the twenty-first century, Mary Melugin would have been bopping across the prairie with ear buds plugged into her head while lengthily texting or twittering more than the birds in the grove of trees she’d just passed. But it was only a few decades into the nineteenth century with little technology in everyday life.
Jacobs Speaks Out on
Thomson Prison Status, Budget Cuts, and FOID Card Privacy
By Tom Kocal, Publisher
Upon his return to Moline from the General Assembly in Springfield, Thursday evening, March 3, State Senator Mike Jacobs (D-36, Moline) met with The Prairie Advocate News for an exclusive interview at the Bass St. Landing.
The first question, and one that has been asked for the past ten years, was the status of the Thomson Correctional Center - will it remain a state prison, or be sold to the federal Bureau of Prisons?
“The most important thing is that we have to open the prison,” Jacobs stated.”I don’t care if it’s opened as a guest room, we have to open the prison. We not only owe it to the people of Illinois, having an empty facility for ten years, but we owe a debt of responsibility to the people who live in the community. I’ve been putting as much pressure as I can on the President, as well as the Governor of Illinois, and I believe we are very close to solving this riddle.”
No promises, but action is pending
“I don’t want to tell people that it’s a done deal,” Jacobs continued, “but I will tell you that there is an indication that I received from the president’s office that we are very close to a final solution.
“That final solution may not look exactly how we hoped it would look like . . . it may not include Gitmo - (Congress) may bar Gitmo prisoners. But I believe that we’ll see the prison sold for somewhere in the neighborhood of $180-$190 million, and see some type of federal penitentiary.
“The fact is, what I see is not a federal penitentiary - I see a lot of jobs. Lord knows the community could use it. I’m very optimistic at this point, that we should see something in the next couple of months to finalize this plan.
“I do find it interesting that the people that seem most opposed to this becoming a federal prison, don’t live there,” Jacobs replied. “People who live in the community seem to be a little more supportive. Let’s try to move away from whether we should or shouldn’t bring (detainees) here.
“I believe that if someone commits a crime in this country, if you take an airplane and run into one of our buildings, I think we ought to punish you. If people don’t think we should bring them to America, or to Thomson, so be it. Let’s open it as a federal penitentiary.”
Jacobs added that if none of this comes to pass, then it is time for Governor Quinn to sell the facility to another state, in spite of the fact that Illinois needs the facility to relive overcrowded, unsafe conditions at other older maximum security facilities in Illinois.
“But we’re in financial difficulty right now in Illinois, and it would be very difficult for us to open that prison, unless we are willing to close some of the older prisons. Unfortunately, what we’ve found out . . . is that people are against prisons - until they build them, and then nobody wants to close the old prisons because they provide a lot of jobs - stable jobs.”
Jacobs referred to the efforts of US Congressman Don Manzullo to receive a guarantee from the president that detainees currently held in a prison at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba will not be transferred to the Thomson facility, or anywhere else in the United States.
In a statement to The Prairie Advocate last week, Rep. Manzullo’s aide, Rich Carter, said, “As for Thomson, we are trying to get the President to publicly announce he is abandoning his plan to put the terrorists there. We want the feds to purchase and open Thomson as a federal prison, but both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are leery of pursuing that plan because they think the President will eventually try to put the terrorists there. So until we can get some kind of assurance from the President that he will never try to put the terrorists there, it will be nearly impossible to get Congress to approve the funding to purchase Thomson and run it as a federal prison.”
Jacobs recognizes that the president understands that there is some “push back” with this issue, and wants to see that stumbling block removed.
“I’m not altogether pleased with taking the Gitmo situation out of the equation, because it does cost us a lot of employees. At this point, the most important thing for the community of Thomson, and Carroll County in general, is to open the prison. If we do that right now, I don’t care how they do it. We’ve all come together as a community and worked hard, and if we could keep everybody out of our business, this thing would be open.
“We’re playing on a national stage. Look, I’m aware that this is a national issue, and I’m aware that some people are afraid of the terrorists coming to this country, and I understand their point. But I think it’s overdone.”
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s made comments during a visit to Mount Carroll right after he was first elected in 2003, that communities should not consider a prison as an economic development tool.
It’s a common fact that the revenue generated from not only the wages paid to the 800 or so employees, but also from the services procured in the Northwestern Illinois region, will have a major impact on not only Carroll County and the region, but in the State of Illinois’s coffers as well.
“$180 to $190 million is a lot of money,” Jacobs said. “We built the prison 10 years ago, it sat empty, and it costs us money. Also, the trickle down, the roll-over from those (federal) jobs - people buying gas, food, buying houses, renting apartments - I think it will be a real shot in the arm for the community. I’m very familiar with the community as part of my district. The people are good, it’s a great area, and just think this will make it even better.”
More next week, or on-line video
Watch next week’s Prairie Advocate for the conversation about the state’s proposed budget cuts and how they will adversely affect many of the social services agencies that this region depends on, the senator’s views about Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s plan to allow the release of personal information of Illinois Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card holders (which is opposed by Carroll Co. Sheriff Jeff Doran and the Illinois Sheriff’s Association), and other significant Illinois policy.
Vieiw the complete, exclusive video interview below.
If you wish to write to or visit Senator Mike Jacobs to voice your concerns about the prison and other state issues, his office is at 606 19th St # A, Moline, IL 61265-2166, or you may call (309) 797-0001.