- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

THOMSON, Ill. (AP) | Some folks in this dying Mississippi River town would rather take their chances with suspected terrorists in their backyard than watch their neighbors continue to move away in despair over the lack of jobs.

News that the federal government may buy the nearly empty Thomson Correctional Center and use the maximum-security state prison to house Guantanamo Bay detainees has given people in Thomson hope that things might be about to turn around in this woeful town of 450.

“This town is slowly but surely dying off, and I mean that literally because the people that are retired are dying off and there’s no young people coming back in to take their place. There’s nothing here to draw them,” said Richard Groharing, a 68-year-old retired Florida corrections officer who was born in Thomson, a farming community about 150 miles west of Chicago.

The prison was built in 2001 with the promise of thousands of jobs. But because of state budget problems, it has been largely vacant since its completion. It has 1,600 cells, but only about 200 minimum-security inmates are held there.

The Obama administration wants to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer some terrorism suspects to the U.S. for trial. On Monday, federal officials were at the Thomson prison to inspect it and meet with state and local authorities.

While Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, both Democrats, welcomed the possibility of locking up Guantanamo detainees at Thomson, several other Illinois lawmakers objected, warning that it would make the Chicago area a terrorist target.

But some folks who live in the shadow of the prison don’t buy that. If Chicago is a target, they say, it’s because it is a big city, not because detainees are held elsewhere in Illinois.

Bait-shop owner Todd Baker said a federal takeover of the prison would be good for the town and surrounding Carroll County, where unemployment is 10.5 percent.

Mr. Baker said it could spur new housing, gas stations and other businesses that would create jobs and customers for his shop, which is stocked with fishing supplies and serves as a local hangout.

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