A tale of two prisons: Can Illinois sell both?

Jul 9, 2012

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is rejecting calls to reduce the asking price for a state prison the federal government wants to buy. He’s also rejecting the idea that Illinois should not try to sell the federal government two prisons at once.

Thomson Correctional Center, in northwest Illinois, has barely been used in the decade since it was built. Illinois and the federal government agreed to a price of $165 million -- significantly less than the $220 million dollars at which that facility has been appraised.

And Quinn plans to close the super-maximum security prison at Tamms, in southern Illinois, as a cost-saving move. It's one of the newest state prisons and, once it's empty, Quinn hopes the federal government will be interested in buying it as well as Thomson.

Two northern Illinois congressmen say the federal government doesn't have money to buy two Illinois prisons. Freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Coloma, and outgoing veteran Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Egan, say the sale of Thomson may be "doomed" by Quinn's latest move.

“Well that's a lot of bologna,” Manzullo said. “I was the one who came up with the idea of selling Thomson to the federal government.”

Most of the state's Republican congressional delegation signed a letter to Quinn asking him to consider lowering the price of Thomson even more, but Quinn rejects that idea.

"It's $165 million dollars,” the governor said. “We don't intend to take any less than that. Some of these congressmen are saying that we should take less than the fair price that we've negotiated -- we're not going to do that."

Quinn says the only thing blocking the Thomson sale is Republican Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia. He chairs a House subcommittee that controls money the federal government needs to complete the sale.

Wolf has said he fears President Barack Obama would transfer terrorism suspects there from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A law has been passed barring that. And the administration of President Barack Obama has repeatedly promised that's no longer the plan. But Wolf has yet to let the sale proceed.

In their letter, Illinois Republicans say a lesser asking price would allow the sale to move forward. It could also help bypass Wolf’s block on funds needed to approve the money the federal government would use to buy the prison from the state.