The state is moving forward with a plan to sell a northwestern Illinois prison to the federal government, though Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday it was "less likely" that Guantanamo Bay detainees would be housed there.
Quinn said that seems to be the mood of Congress after the House Armed Services Committee earlier this week unanimously approved a 2011 national defense authorization bill that prohibits using money to build or modify facilities in the United States for Guantanamo detainees.
"I think it's less likely given the Congress with respect to the issue of detainees, but separate and distinct from that there's a need for a federal prison," Quinn told reporters.
Quinn has already agreed to sell the mostly unused Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison located about 150 miles west of Chicago. But the prospect of moving about 100 detainees there had sparked criticism from some who feared it would make Illinois a terrorist target.
The Justice Department indicated in March it still wanted to buy the prison and use it to house federal inmates even if detainees weren't sent there. The White House says the House committee's action won't impact money for the Justice Department's to buy the prison.
"There is a significant need for another federal prison," said Rich Carter, a spokesman for Republican Rep. Don Manzullo, whose district includes Thomson. Manzullo supports turning Thomson into a federal prison but opposes holding detainees there.
Obama had been looking for a new place to hold detainees because he promised during the campaign to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.
Quinn said he expects to put together a deal soon for the prison. "I'm optimistic we can get that done," he said.
The state is in the process of having the prison appraised so Illinois can get fair market value, he said.
The Democratic governor said selling the prison would add much-needed capacity to the federal prison system and create jobs in and around the rural Mississippi River town where the prison is located.
The prison, which has 1,600 cells, has never been used to its maximum capacity. It was built in 2001 but state budget troubles kept it from fully opening. Only its minimum-security unit houses inmates with an average daily population of 144, according to the state Department of Corrections website.
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