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Op-Ed: Prison Decision Good For State, Nation

Op-Ed

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In Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural address, he famously said: "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It is important that we keep FDR's words in mind as we discuss the proposal to sell Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government.

Opponents of selling Thomson are presenting a false choice between economic prosperity and national security. In fact, this proposal strengthens both.

First, let me address the national security angle. Guantanamo Bay is a black eye that has been used as a recruiting tool by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. We desperately need to close it. Among those calling for the closure of Guantanamo are Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Gen. David Petraeus and Colin Powell.

The detainees that remain there must be transferred to a secure facility until they receive trial. Why not Thomson? I am proud that the state of Illinois is willing to step up and play its part in fighting terrorism.

After being briefed by the National Security Council, I am convinced that moving a limited number of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Thomson would pose no threat to that community or my congressional district. The elected officials who have resorted to fear mongering by falsely claiming terrorists will be released into our neighborhoods should be ashamed of themselves. Playing politics with our national security is simply wrong.

Let's get the facts straight. No one in history has ever broken out of a Supermax prison, and Thomson would be equipped by the Department of Defense to exceed Supermax security measures. In addition, no Guantanamo detainee can be released on U.S. soil. If they are tried and convicted, they will be sentenced. If, in the unlikely event they are found not guilty, they will be deported. Friends and relatives of detainees would not be permitted to visit; only legal counsel and Red Cross monitors would.

There are those who claim this plan will make Illinois a terrorist target. But history tells us differently. There are already 340 prisoners with connections to terrorism held on American soil including Ramzi Youssef, Richard Reid and the "Blind Sheik" Abdul Rahman. Furthermore, there are 35 terrorists incarcerated in Illinois, including an al Qaeda agent convicted earlier this year. These prisoners have not invited attacks on our state. Why would housing a handful more be any different?

Not only is this proposal good for our national security, it would create between 2,340 and 3,250 jobs and inject nearly a billion dollars into the local economy. Unemployment in Carroll County, where Thomson is located, would be cut in half. Unemployment would also drop in surrounding counties, including Rock Island and Whiteside, which I represent. This is a historic opportunity for our region that cannot and should not be derailed by the politics of fear.

When I travelled to Thomson a few weeks ago, I met with local residents at Buck's Barn restaurant to discuss this plan. These were hardworking, ordinary Americans who are struggling every day to make ends meet. In overwhelming numbers, they told me they support the federal government buying Thomson. They are not afraid of a detainee escaping the prison or Illinois getting hit by a terrorist attack. What frightens them is the thought of losing their job. They are scared they won't be able to save enough money to send their kids to college. They worry they won't be able to afford their mortgage payments or healthcare premiums. The plan to sell Thomson prison will not solve all of their problems. But it can help. And I have not heard a single good reason to deny them that chance.

Today, the Thomson prison is almost entirely unused. As Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin rightly said: "Thomson Correctional Center -- a high-security prison -- has been sitting empty for eight years. The Obama administration has put forward a plan to make it the safest prison in America and we are pleased that they have made this decision. This is an opportunity to dramatically reduce unemployment, create thousands of good-paying jobs and breathe new economic life into this part of downstate Illinois."

FDR went on to say in his first inaugural: "Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously." Our other obligation is to keep the American people safe. This plan would do both. Let's put politics aside and demonstrate the wisdom and courage FDR called for by supporting the sale of Thomson.

Hare represents the 17th district of Illinois.


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