Hundreds gather for hearing on Thomson prison plan

December 23, 2009 4:28:36 AM PST
Illinois lawmakers got their first, up-close look at the Thomson Correctional Center Tuesday. The first and only public hearing on the Thomson prison deal took place in Sterling, Illinois. The tour took place as people spoke out for the first time about whether terrorist detainees currently housed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba should be moved to the Illinois prison.

Opponents are concerned about safety in the northwest Illinois community if terror suspects are housed there.

Those in favor of the plan say it will help create hundreds of jobs in the area.

The federal government could be taking over the mostly, vacant prison.

The first and only public hearing on that deal was taking place on Tuesday in Sterling, Illinois which is just outside of Thomson.

"All the funerals for soldiers he's attended and then put the prisoners right here in our own backyard!" said one protester Tuesday.

Demonstrators were out to denounce the plan to bring suspected terrorists on to American soil. They've come from Chicago, Barrington, even Los Angeles .

"The terrorists do not belong in this country, whether it's Illinois or any state in this country," said Dianne Bishop, Antioch resident.

The question for locals, though, is are they willing to trade the promise of as many as 3,000 jobs for the stigma that comes with incarcerating the Guantanamo Bay detainees?

"I think it's a good idea to have the prison open but I don't think we should have the terrorists sent over here," said Don Noble, Rock Falls resident.

"If it'll create jobs and it's such a good idea why not take every criminal in the world and bring 'em here if it's such a good idea?" said Tom Schwab, Sterling resident.

"I don't think al-Qaeda will find central Illinois very appetizing," said Jim Arduini, Sterling resident.

A legislative panel was holding what will likely be the one and only public hearing on selling the Thomson prison to the feds. The governor's team emphasizes only one wing of the facility will be used to house the alleged terrorists.

"There's a lot of questionable rhetoric out there, all the questions have been answered in a transparent way," said Jack Lavin, Illinois Dept. of Commerce & Community Affairs.

"We're going to find out today who will be hired to work at the federal facility and I'm fearful it won't be Illinois citizens," said State Sen. Bill Brady, (R) candidate for governor.

The state panel that's listening to the comments on Tuesday afternoon will issue a recommendation but it's nonbinding. So, other than a lawsuit, there is nothing that could stop the sale of the Thomson prison from going forward.


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