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Rally Urges Gov. Quinn to Fund Thomson Prison

By Tom Kocal

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THOMSON ­ Fears that the rally to "Move the Thomson Correctional Center Forward" would be disorganized and not contain a "good message" proved unfounded as hundreds of Illinois citizens joined Correctional Officers from Thomson and throughout the Illinois Dept. of Corrections at the April 4 event. The parking lot at Thomson's Sunrise Restaurant was full of people, young and old, wearing tee shirts bearing the message "Governor Quinn - Fund Thomson CC," and carrying signs and signing petitions in support of fully funding the state-of-the-art prison.

After nearly 8 years of the prison not being used, 300 new employees were assigned for duty early in 2008, with the Minimum Security Unit opening, and preparations started to bring in Maximum Security level 1 prisoners. But after only one month, about 200 of those employees were detailed to other prison facilities throughout the state. Many local hires are now forced to commute an hour or more after they moved to Thomson and were hired to work in Thomson.

A group of these employees planned the "Informational Rally," asking for taxpayers support by signing petitions and making the peaceful, positive statement that it's time to fully fund and operate the facility. Spokespersons for the rally, Randy and Kathy Newstrand, are both employees of the IDOC. Randy is an elected official serving on the Village Board in Chadwick, where the couple make their home.

 

"We're not asking Gov. Quinn or anyone else to close any prison in Illinois," Randy said. "We simply want him to know that it is long overdue, and that it's time to fully fund the prison. We need the jobs in Northwest Illinois."

"People have been hired, they've pulled up roots to move here, and now their future is unsure" Kathy added. "They deserve better."

Addressing the audience first was Rep. Jim Sacia (R-89, Pecatonica), who, in spite of representing the eastern half of Carroll County in Springfield, has been a vocal supporter of funding the TCC. He announced that in 2008, the IDOC spent $61 million in mandatory overtime pay. The prison system in Illinois has long been understaffed and overcrowded, especially in the Level-1, maximum security prisons. The prison was built in Northwest Illinois to help replace some of the federal jobs lost when the Savanna Army Depot was closed. But the situation has only worsened, and has prompted legislation to prevent the IDOC from requiring mandatory overtime because of the severely understaffed conditions.

Bill Lease and Gerald Bork

Savanna Mayor Bill Lease (left) and Carroll County Board member Gerald Bork (D-2, Mt. Carroll) joined several hundred Correctional officers and their families, State Representatives, a Senator, local residents, Carroll County Police and Fire Departments, County Board members and officials at the April 4 rally. See and hear their calls to Gov. Pat Quinn to fully fund the opening of the prison on video at www.pacc-news.com.

"I support HB 1054 called the State Facility Overtime Act, which states that any State agency, like the Dept. of Corrections, may not force an employee to work overtime, which is currently the practice in the IDOC," Sacia said. "I confirmed with Jim McClain with the IDOC that Corrections spent $61 million in overtime compensation in 2008. That amount could be reduced significantly by opening Thomson. Folks, it's a no-brainer. The $50 million needed to fully fund opening Thomson is available."

Sacia was joined by Senator Mike Jacobs (D-36, Moline), Rep. Pat Verschoore (D-72, Rock Island), and a spokesperson for Rep. Mike Boland (D-71, Moline). Jacobs and Boland represent the House and Senate districts that are home to the Thomsom Prison, but all mentioned the fact that they all support this effort, and are confident that their planned meeting with Gov. Quinn will be fruitful.

There was strong support shown from several areas of Carroll County: Mayors Bill Lease of Savanna and Carl Bates of Mt. Carroll spoke to the crowd, as well as Village of Chadwick President Deb Adolph, and soon-to-be-elected President Zelma McNeal; Larry Stebbins and Donna Opheim, candidates for Savanna mayor and Thomson president respectively; Village trustees and City aldermen from every municipality showed their support; Carroll County Clerk Brian Woessner, and County Board members Gerald Bork, Paul Hartman, and Kurt Dreger; Representatives from the Thomson, Savanna, Mt. Carroll, and Lanark Chambers of Commerce; Chadwick, Thomson, Savanna and Mt. Carroll Fire Dept's; Laurie Gungel with the Tri-County Economic Development Alliance; and representatives of the Carroll County Economic Development Strategy.

Bill Lease and Gerald Bork

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Correctional Officer Shane Boyson (left) and his wife Brook with their two children at the "Move TCC Forward" rally. The Boyson's moved to Thomson when Shane was hired, but after only one month, Shane has been transferred to Stateville in Joliet. "We moved here to be close to work, that's all we want," Shane said.

Velma Kruder

Velma Krueder of Savanna joined the rally, bringing a sign she brought to Springfield 5 years ago, urging support to open the state-of-the-art prison. Today, only 100 of the 300 Correctional Officers hired to man Thomson are still there. (PA photos & video/Tom Kocal)

Pam Brown, Executive Director of the Savanna Chamber of Commerce, wrote a letter to Gov. Quinn that echoed the sentiments of every speaker and person in attendance.

"We need the jobs; We need the people in our communities to replace all of those we have lost with the closing of The Savanna Army Depot, the downsizing of the railroad, the closing of Shimer College in Mt. Carroll, and the list goes on and on. Our unemployment rate is devastating at 10.8%, and many of the factories that employ our working family members are experiencing great cutbacks and layoffs.

"Many Carroll County residents spent their life savings trying to prepare for the opening of this prison by building speculative homes, hotels, restaurants, expanding the gas stations, and have had to file bankruptcy because of a promise to energize this area was not kept.

"Our schools have suffered, families have to drive many miles to seek employment and Carroll County continues to lose valuable life enhancing assets.

"We know you do not want to close Pontiac and we are not asking that you do, we want you to find funding to make Pontiac a rehab center or to house prisoners, the choice is yours, but this state of the art facility sits almost empty, and the 8th year anniversary is May 1st. HOW LONG DO WE HAVE TO WAIT??? Please fund and staff the Thomson Correctional Center, so we have the influx of families and jobs that we so desperately need."

Rally leaders said that petitions are still available at many area businesses if you wish to add your name to the support list. An additional bus trip to Springfield is also being planned by Rep. Boland's office.

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