CHICAGO — Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin on Sunday tried to build support and counter criticism of a proposal to sell a prison in rural northwestern Illinois to the federal government to house Guantanamo Bay detainees and other inmates.
Federal officials are expected to visit the maximum security Thomson Correctional Center, about 150 miles west of Chicago, today.
Quinn and Durbin said the possibility of selling the prison to the federal government was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help create about 3,000 jobs, at the prison and directly in surrounding communities in an area where unemployment has topped 10 percent.
"We have an opportunity to bring thousands of good-paying jobs to Illinois when we need them the most," Durbin said at a news conference in Chicago, one of several Illinois stops Sunday. "We have an opportunity to bring them to a part of our state that has been struggling and that's an opportunity we are not going to miss."
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Critics, including Republican members of Congress from Illinois and GOP candidates for governor, have been quick to condemn the prospect of the sale because of safety concerns.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Andy McKenna said Quinn's plan to cut spending and create jobs includes bringing "terrorists to Illinois."
"I wholeheartedly oppose Governor Quinn and President Obama's efforts to move Gitmo detainees to our neighborhoods," McKenna said in a statement.
Thomson has been largely vacant since its construction in 2001 because of budget problems. The prison was built with 1,600 cells, but only about 200 minimum security inmates are held there.
Durbin brushed off security concerns, saying convicted terrorists are already incarcerated in federal prisons without incident.