Durbin: Obama Administration will not Transfer Prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Thomson
Senator says written assurance from Attorney General should clear way for purchase of Thomson and creation of 1,000 jobs in Illinois
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In a letter to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Attorney General Eric Holder clearly stated that the Obama Administration has no intention of transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Thomson Correctional Center, a move that is already prohibited by federal law.
Today’s letter was sent in response to a February letter that Durbin had sent to Holder outlining the bipartisan support for the purchase of Thomson prison and a March letter from Durbin and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) which made clear that this support hinges on the guarantee that no prisoners from Guantanamo Bay will be transferred to the facility.
“Today the Attorney General confirmed that the Obama Administration has no intention of pursuing a change in the law that would allow the housing of Guantanamo Bay prisoners on U.S. soil – a move widely acknowledged as not politically possible,” said Durbin. “This assurance clears the way for Congress to focus its efforts on funding the acquisition and operation of Thomson as a maximum-security federal prison. Governor Quinn has assured me that both the state and federal government have made significant progress in their negotiations and a purchase agreement is imminent. I look forward to working on a bipartisan basis to open this facility and create more than 1,100 jobs in Illinois.”
The sale of Thomson enjoys bipartisan support from members of the Illinois and Iowa Congressional Delegations as well as broad-based local and state support. Sale of the facility will lead to significant job creation, more than 1,100 jobs, and inject at least $1 billion into the region’s economy.
The State of Illinois and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons are currently in negotiations over the purchase of Thomson Correctional Center for use as a federal maximum security prison. The Bureau of Prisons believes that the acquisition of Thomson will help alleviate serious federal prison overcrowding, currently running as high as 50 percent over rated capacity, and help increase the safety of the system’s prison guards.
On March 18, 2011, Durbin and Kirk sent a letter to Holder asking him to clearly state that the Obama Administration has no intention of transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Thomson Correctional Center, a move that would allow Congress to focus its efforts on acquiring and operating Thomson as a maximum-security federal prison.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request included nearly $67 million for second year activation costs for Thomson and its 1,600 cells. This builds upon the President’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request of $237 million for the acquisition, upgrade and operation of Thomson in the federal prison system.
[Text of the Attorney General’s letter to Durbin is below]
April 4, 2011
The Honorable Richard J. Durbin
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senator Durbin:
I am writing in response to your letters to me dated February 16 and March 18, 2011 regarding the Thomson Correctional Center in Carroll County, Illinois. I am sending a similar response to Senator Mark Kirk, who joined in your March 18 letter.
As you know, the Department wishes to acquire the Thomson facility in order to provide critically needed high security bed space for the federal Bureau of Prisons. The current population of high security federal penitentiaries is 51 % above rated capacity, and continues to grow. The purchase of an existing state facility such as Thomson would be substantially less expensive than the construction of an equivalent high security facility in the current market, and would expand federal prison capacity much sooner than the three to four years it would take to construct a new prison.
I appreciate your leadership in addressing the dangers of prison overcrowding, and in fostering community support for the federal government's acquisition of this unused state facility.
The President's FY11 budget requested $237 million for the acquisition, renovation, and operation of the Thomson facility. However, under the FY11 Continuing Resolutions, the
Department lacks sufficient money to purchase or activate Thomson using currently available funds. We look forward to working with you to obtain additional appropriated funds for this important and needed project.
You have asked whether detainees currently held in the Department of Defense facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be transferred to or housed at the Thomson Correctional Center. While we are confident the Thomson facility would be amply secure enough to house such individuals, Congress has since prohibited the use of funds to transfer such detainees to the United States. The Administration opposed that restriction for the reasons set forth in the letter I sent to Senators Reid and McConnell on December 9, 2010. Nonetheless, consistent with current law, we will not transfer detainees from Guantanamo to Thomson, or otherwise house Guantanamo detainees at Thomson. The Thomson facility would only house federal inmates and would be operated solely by the Bureau of Prisons.
Thank you for your continued support of the Department's efforts to relieve overcrowding in federal prisons. I look forward to working with you to secure resources to acquire the Thomson facility.
Eric H. Holder, Jr.
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