Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, is worried the Thomson Correctional Center, which has been largely unused since it was completed in 2001, could sit vacant another decade or more if it isn't reopened as a federal prison soon.|
"We've got a $140 million project sitting vacant," the freshman U.S. congressman said during a Wednesday editorial board with The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus. "I want to figure out a way to open it."
Turning the maximum security prison into a federal prison won't be easy. Rep. Schilling and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have been pressuring U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., to use his position on a key congressional committee to sign off on the sale, but Rep. Wolf and several other congressmen are resisting.
Rep. Wolf sits on the House Appropriations Committee, where he is chairman of the commerce-justice-science subcommittee.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has agreed to sell the prison to the federal government for $165 million.
Rep. Wolf said last week he believes that turning Thomson into a federal prison would take money from four new, but still unopened, federal prisons. Only one of those prisons is a maximum security.
"None of them are state-of-the-art like this prison," Rep. Schilling said, adding that opening Thomson as a federal facility would ease pressure on an already-overcrowded federal maximum-security prison system.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons says the maximum-security system has 53 percent more inmates than it was designed for.
That means the Thomson prison could be filled quickly, Rep. Schilling said. "We've got enough overflow to get it filled."
Rep. Wolf's initial opposition to the federal government buying Thomson stemmed from a fear that it would be used to house Guantanamo Bay detainees, but Rep. Schilling said the sale agreement forbids that.
"We've even got wording in there that says they can't bring detainees here."
Rep. Schilling said that while Thomson sits empty, it still costs the state a lot of money. "We're spending $800,000 a year for nothing."
Rep. Schilling also discussed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. He said he liked that the act makes it easier for people with preexisting medical conditions to get health insurance, but said there are other ways to reduce health care costs.
"We've got to look at tort reform," he said, adding that if doctors were not as worried about lawsuits, they would perform fewer tests which would reduce costs to patients.
Rep. Schilling, who is up for re-election on Nov. 6, said that if Congress passes a $120 billion transportation bill, which includes $500 million for grants for projects of regional and national significance, construction of a new Interstate 74 bridge could begin by 2017.
The cost of the bridge has been estimated at more than $1 billion. Rep. Schilling said Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called it one of the worst bridges he'd ever seen.
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