Is the Illinois Prison Safe?
Protesters gather outside a Illinois legislative hearing Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009 in Sterling, Ill. (AP Photo)
The AP via YellowBrix
December 23, 2009
STERLING, Ill. — Federal officials tried on Tuesday to allay fears that moving terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a rural western Illinois prison could make the state a terrorist target.
The director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Harley Lappin, told a legislative panel that a new perimeter fence and other measures would make Thomson Correctional Center “the most secure of all federal prisons in the country.”
Gov. Pat Quinn plans to sell the prison to the federal government to house detainees and for a maximum-security federal prison, and Tuesday’s public hearing probably will not change that. The 12-member Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability could vote on a recommendation to sell the prison that skirts the Mississippi River, but the governor does not have to follow the recommendation and Quinn, who was en route to Germany, did not attend the meeting.
The hearing adjourned Tuesday night, and the commission said it would not vote on the proposal before Jan. 14.
Many in Thomson, about 20 miles from Sterling, and other northwest Illinois communities say they welcome the estimated 3,000 jobs that the White House says would be generated by the prison. But opponents say the move is too risky.
“Terrorists would want to hit us to make a point, here in the Midwest, in the American heartland,” protester Amanda Norms said before the meeting. “Is a little economic gain worth the risk?”
Jay Alan Liotta, the Defense Department’s principal director in the office of detainee policy, insisted the area would be safe.
“Allow me to be perfectly clear: The security of the facility and that of the surrounding community is our paramount concern,” he told the panel.
Earlier in the day, members of the media got a glimpse of the prison. Many of its interior common areas, including library and classroom space, are still gleaming eight years after the facility’s construction. The outside is more forbidding, with barbed wire atop fences and guard towers.