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Obama administration proceeds with controversial prison purchase

By Carol Cratty, CNN
updated 10:23 PM EDT, Tue October 2, 2012
The Obama administration said it will buy Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois to house high-security federal inmates.
The Obama administration said it will buy Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois to house high-security federal inmates.
  • The government is paying $165 million for the Thomson Correctional Center
  • The Illinois prison will house high-security federal inmates
  • Opponents worry that terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay will be transferred
  • Administration officials say the prison will help alleviate overcrowding in other prisons

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration has decided to buy the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois to house high-security federal inmates, and promises the facility will not be used for terror detainees currently incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said the Justice Department filed paperwork in federal court in Rockford, Illinois, on Tuesday to buy the prison from the state for $165 million dollars. The government may spend approximately $25 million dollars to make renovations. The cost estimate to construct a new prison is approximately $400 million dollars.

Durbin called the move a good deal for his state and for the federal government.

"This historic action will lead to the creation of hundreds of construction jobs and over 1,000 permanent jobs at this federal facility," he said.

Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter on Tuesday to Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, chairman of a House appropriations subcommittee dealing with Justice Department funding. Wolf fought the move by the federal government to acquire Thomson. Holder said the prison is being purchased to help alleviate severe overcrowding in Bureau of Prisons facilities.

"As I have committed publicly -- and as I now reiterate --Thomson will not be used to house Guantanamo detainees," wrote Holder.

Guantanamo detainee back in Canada to serve out sentence

In 2009 the administration considered buying the prison to hold some Guantanamo detainees. That led to an uproar from Republican members of Congress. Legislation was passed to prevent transfer of Guantanamo prisoners, a fact Holder acknowledged in his letter.

Holder said the decision to go ahead and buy the prison -- after two and a half years of delays -- is solely about dealing with overcrowding and keeping federal prisons as safe as possible.

Wolf remained unconvinced.

"I am concerned that this purchase will set in motion the administration's plan to close the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo by transferring terrorist detainees to U.S. maximum security prisons, like Thomson," Wolf said in a statement.

Wolf said Democrats remain interested in doing just that and pointed to a request by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairperson of the Intelligence Committee, to have the Government Accountability Office study which U.S.prisons might be suitable to hold Guantanamo detainees.

House Homeland Security Committee chairman Peter King, R-New York, said the administration ignored Congress in pressing ahead with buying Thomson.

"If the Obama Administration is willing to ignore Congress about the purchase of the Thomson prison, how are the American people expected to trust that the Administration will not ignore Congress about the transfer of terrorists into it?" King asked in a press release.

2009: Some Guantanamo detainees to be moved to Illinois

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