Construction workers completed a $140 million state-of-the-art maximum-security prison in Thomson, Ill., seven years ago. But today the prison remains mostly empty, filled only to a fraction of its capacity, reports the Rockford Register Star. Now, in the latest proposal to open the facility, Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to transfer 800 prisoners from Pontiac Correctional Center to Thomson, beginning in January 2009. More will follow until the prison is fully open by mid-2010, according to the governor.
Though the move would come as welcome news in Thomson, a rural Mississippi River town, residents expressed skepticism that the prison's time had finally come. Carol Schreiner, a cook at the Thomson House Café, a half-mile from the prison, said townspeople have gotten excited when governors have promised to fully open the facility, but are just let down when it doesn't happen. “It's a shame because of all the money that was spent with the people's tax dollars, and it’s just sitting over there … empty,” she said. Gov. Jim Edgar ordered the prison built in 1998, saying it could replace 500 jobs lost when the nearby Savanna Army Depot closed. But Gov. George Ryan and Gov. Blagojevich after him, refused to open the prison to full capacity, citing budget problems.