By Lynn Sweet
Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON — A White House analysis of a federal purchase of the nearly vacant northwestern Illinois prison to house Guantanamo detainees and other federal prisoners, obtained by the Sun-Times on Saturday, concludes that in the first year 2,290 to 2,960 jobs would be created, and local residents would be “excellent candidates” for 1,240 to 1,410 of those jobs.
The remaining jobs would be filled by military personnel or government employees to be transferred to the area.
The economic forecast study was conducted by the Obama White House Council of Economic Advisers and released to build the case that closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba — and transferring some of the detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center — would create jobs and an economic boom in an area with high unemployment.
The report comes as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and federal and state officials made a quick tour of Thomson on Saturday and met with local officials. Several Illinois GOP lawmakers who oppose the project have complained that the White House has not provided information as Thomson is emerging as a leading contender to house the suspected terrorists.
The report revealed:
If the federal government bought the Thomson Correctional Center, the Bureau of Prisons would occupy 75 percent of the facility and the Defense Department would use 25 percent of the space for the detainees. The report sees two “entirely separate facilities side by side.”
A footnote in the nine-page report reveals that the Bureau of Prisons has more ambitious plans for Thomson. Thomson, built in 2001, has 1,600 maximum-security cells and a 200-bed minimum-security unit. The Bureau of Prisons “plans call for its portion of the facility to be a higher-security prison with 2,000 inmates.”
The federal government envisions $15 million on the Bureau of Prisons side to modify the prison and $22 million on furnishings, equipment and supplies. The Defense Department expects to spend $35 million to $40 million annually on capital improvements, “matching the current annual expenditures at the facility in Guantanamo Bay.”
Over four years, up to 910 temporary jobs and 3,880 ongoing jobs would be created and about $1 billion spent on wages, construction, operating costs and other spending related to the prison.
The White House has declined to say how many of the 215 Guantanamo detainees would be transferred to Illinois; Durbin has pegged the number at 100.