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Some Guantanamo Detainees May Be Illinois-Bound

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Today, President Obama announced plans for the federal government to buy a nearly empty prison in Thomson, Illinois. The idea is to move detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Thomson. This afternoon, Illinois senator Dick Durbin, a democrat, applauded the decision.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): We see this as a great opportunity to not only serve our country but to provide meaningful jobs for a lot of people desperate for work.

SIEGEL: When Thomson, Illinois, was first proposed as a site for the Guantanamo detainees, the initial reaction from Illinois politicians tended to split down party lines: Democrats backed the plan, Republican's opposed it - well, not entirely. For the past seven years Jim Sacia has been state rep for the 89th district of Illinois, which is just adjacent to Thomson. He is a Republican. He is a supporter of the plan and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

State Representative JIM SACIA (Republican, 89th District, Illinois): Thank you very much Robert.

SIEGEL: First tell us about the prison in Thomson and why it's almost empty.

State Rep. SACIA: I certainly will. The citizens of Thomson, some 10 years ago, agreed to have a maximum facility state institution built there. And it was completed approximately eight years ago. And from the time it was completed in 2002, there has not been adequate funding to open it. And accordingly, the numerous people that prepared for its opening built motels, gas stations, automobile dealerships, et cetera, literally had their dreams broken, many are bankrupt. And we have attempted for the past seven years to get the facility open to no avail. If those prisoners are going to come to the United States of America on our mainland, bring them to Thomson. We'll gladly house him.

SIEGEL: But just to clarify, the state of Illinois borrowed enough to build the prison but then didn't have the funds to actually operate it.

State Rep. SACIA: That's exactly what happened, sir.

SIEGEL: Well, will there really be local prison jobs for people either in Thomson or in your district, which I guess, is about - comes up to about two miles of the town?

State Rep. SACIA: Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: Or will those jobs in fact go to people with experience in the federal bureau of prisons who'll actually get the jobs?

State Rep. SACIA: Well, I think you're going to get a little bit of both. According to the briefing I received on November 15th, there's unquestionably going to be 200 prison guards brought in initially from around the country, people willing to relocate here. What we were told is somewhere between three and five hundred people from a local area would have an opportunity to be trained as prison guards on a federal level.

But as a retired law enforcement officer myself, I am well aware that people throughout the United States can apply for these positions. Certainly I see local jobs, local economic development, but people throughout the country are going to have those opportunities for these federal law enforcement positions.

SIEGEL: If I understand you, there will be a new prison guard slot, one for almost every Guantanamo detainee who is going to be sent there.

State Rep. SACIA: I don't question that for a minute, sir. But here is what we need to understand. There are eight wings to the Thomson prison, each capable of handling 200 prisoners without double bunking. One wing will be designated solely to get more prisoners. I'm sure that they will probably have one on one military. We were told military police on those people. That wing will be totally segregated and they will be handled totally differently than the remainder of the prison population. And I think that's very important for people to understand. There is going to be no co-mingling.

SIEGEL: That is Illinois state representative and retired FBI agent, yes?

State Rep. SACIA: Yes, sir.

SIEGEL: Jim Sacia, represents the 89th district in Illinois, just adjacent to the town of Thomson, which is where the Guantanamo detainees are going to be sent. Thank you very much for talking with us.

State Rep. SACIA: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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