The Illinois Department of Corrections finished building the Thomson Correctional Center in November 2001.
For much of the nearly 11 years since then, the maximum-security prison has sat empty, its promise of hundreds of state jobs unfulfilled.
Those frustrating days appear to be over.
Last week’s announcement by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn should pave the way for the prison’s opening as a federal lockup.
Durbin and Quinn announced that the federal government has bought the prison for $165 million.
More money – $40 million to $50 million – will be spent to upgrade the penitentiary to federal standards.
Then it will open, generating 1,100 jobs for northern Illinois.
That will be a huge economic boost for the state – the kind of boost that Gov. Jim Edgar envisioned in 1998 when he announced plans to build the prison.
No one knew then that Illinois’ worsening budget crisis would prevent the prison’s opening, or that politics would play the role that it did in delaying the empty prison’s transfer to the federal government.
Several weeks ago, we noted that U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, was holding up the prison’s sale. Wolf, chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that funds the Bureau of Prisons, had several objections.
Wolf said he feared the Obama administration would move terrorism suspects to Thomson from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center – even though the Obama administration promised not to do so.
Wolf also pointed out that it would be unfair for the federal government to buy the Thomson prison when prisons in other states had been waiting for their funding for a longer period of time.
Wolf played his stalling game for more than a year. Now, Durbin and President Barack Obama have shown that they were up to the challenge.
Durbin said he urged the president to designate money left over from the previous fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, to make the purchase. Such a maneuver would circumvent the obstacles that stood in the way. Obama agreed.
So that’s how the stalled sale became unstalled.
And that’s why hundreds of federal prison jobs are a step closer to reality.
We learned long ago not to get our hopes up when politicians hold news conferences and make promises.
When the prison is refurbished, when the employees have been hired, and when the prison opens, then we’ll heave a sigh of relief.
Finally, the unfulfilled promises will be history.
Finally, the political games will be at an end.