Illinois Prison 248 88 AP.
(photo credit: AP [file])
US President Barack Obama's administration may buy a near-empty prison in rural Illinois to house detainees from Guantanamo Bay along with federal inmates, a White House official said Saturday.
The maximum-security Thomson Correctional Facility, about 240 kilometers west of Obama's adopted hometown of Chicago, was one of several evaluated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and emerged as a leading option to house the detainees, the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because a decision has not been made.
Obama wants detainees from the controversial military-run detention center in Cuba to be transferred to US soil so they can be prosecuted for their suspected crimes.
Thomson was built by the state in 2001 with 1,600 cells, but budget problems prevented it from fully opening, and it now houses about 200 minimum-security inmates.
It is unclear how many Guantanamo detainees - alleged terrorism suspects, many held without charges since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan - might be transferred to Illinois or when. Obama initially planned to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by Jan. 22, but the administration is no longer expected to meet that deadline.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has been hinting at a possible new use for Thomson, and he issued a statement saying he would hold a news conference Sunday to outline those plans.
Quinn's spokeswoman Marlena Jentz did not return a phone message from the AP Saturday.
If the Federal Bureau of Prisons buys the facility, it would be run primarily as a federal prison, but a portion would be leased to the Defense Department to house a limited number of Guantanamo detainees, the White House official said. Perimeter security at the site would be increased to surpass that at the nation's only Supermax prison, in Florence, Colorado, the official said.
The plan has support from Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second-highest-ranking Democrat, and Thomson Village President Jerry Hebeler, who says the move would generate desperately needed revenue for the town of about 500 residents.
Some lawmakers opposed the idea of terrorism suspects being brought to Illinois. US Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican running for Obama's old Senate seat, circulated a letter among elected officials asking them to write to Obama opposing the plan.
Thomson is not the only US town that had hoped to lure Guantanamo detainees. Officials in Colorado, Montana and elsewhere in Illinois have said they would welcome the jobs that would be generated.