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Illinois prison could begin housing terror suspects by mid-2011

The Obama budget proposal is asking for $237 million to purchase the largely vacant facility. Key congressional Republicans oppose the plan.

February 03, 2010|By Katherine Skiba

Reporting from Washington — If Congress signs off on the money to purchase the Thomson prison in Illinois, it could see its first federal inmates by mid-2011, a Justice Department official said.

President Obama on Monday submitted a budget proposal to Congress asking for $237 million for the largely vacant prison in northwestern Illinois.

Some terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be housed there, as would Bureau of Prisons inmates, administration officials have said.

If Congress were to approve the money by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, the prison would probably take its first inmate "in the end of the first half" of 2011, an assistant attorney general, Lee Lofthus, told reporters.

Justice Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said Tuesday that it had not been announced which category of federal inmate would be accepted at the prison first.

Obama's budget included $170 million to acquire and renovate the prison and almost $67 million to equip, staff and activate it.

Lofthus said the government could not begin to upgrade the prison or hire employees without approval of the funds.

"Other than taking a look at the property . . . we're not moving on the hiring for Thomson," he said.

Republicans in Congress immediately signaled opposition to the plan.

kskiba@tribune.com

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