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Sacia explains reasoning behind prison support

Thursday, Nov 19, 2009 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica) represents Thomson, Illinois. Sacia pens a regular column for newspapers in his district, but I thought you might like to read his latest work, which, of course, is about the proposed sale of the Thomson state prison to the feds…

At the request of Governor Quinn, I, along with Senator Bivins, arrived at Thomson Prison on Monday to find a daunting number of reporters, heads of local municipalities, law enforcement officials and others with a need to know more about the proposed plan to sell the prison to the federal government. We were immediately ushered to the front of the briefing to join Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley and my good friend State Representative Pat Verschoore (D-Milan).

The briefing itself lasted about two hours. It was impressive and thorough, and it answered much of the “coffee shop spin” that was already gripping Northwest Illinois. It was conducted by the Governor’s Chief Operating Officer Jack Lavin, Illinois Department of Corrections Director Michael Randle, Jonathon Monken the Director of the Illinois State Police, Harley Lappin the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Phil Carter U. S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs.

Without this briefing, there would still be far more questions than answers. Several very important considerations have influenced my strong stand in favor of the state of Illinois selling the Thomson Prison to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

First, the 1600-bed maximum security facility in Thomson has sat nearly vacant since its completion in 2001, breaking the hearts and dreams of those in the surrounding community who invested their life savings and all they could borrow into businesses to support the anticipated opening of the prison. Many are now bankrupt.

Second, as a state legislator I have no control over President Obama’s decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GITMO). If the detainees now housed there are coming to American soil, I’m all in favor of housing approximately 100 at Thomson and filling the remainder of the facility with maximum security federal prisoners. Both Mr. Carter and Mr. Lappin assured us that the GITMO detainees would never be co-mingled with other federal prisoners. They would have their own segregated wing under the control of the U.S. military.

A fact not known to many of us before the proposed sale of the Thomson Prison is that there are already 340 former GITMO detainees currently being housed in federal prisons in the United States, 40 of them at the federal facility in Marion, Illinois. It wasn’t made clear this week how many may be housed at other federal Illinois facilities in Greenville, Pekin and Chicago. It appears the transfers of those prisoners weren’t newsworthy because they weren’t tied to the closing of GITMO.

No, the transfer of detainees here won’t result in the creation of terror cells in Northwest Illinois. Detainees are not allowed visits from anyone other than clergy, lawyers and the Red Cross. Other prisoners at Thomson would retain normal visiting privileges.

Please remember folks, we are not breaking new ground here. Our federal facilities already are housing 340 of the worst of the worst with no problems. Thomson would simply fall in line, but of course, it is tied to the closing of GITMO, so the politics have gotten out in front of practical reality. This is an opportunity for up to 3200 new, direct and indirect jobs - many of them federal law enforcement positions. There will be local hires and transfers from the state system to the federal system. The facility will have an $85 million per year operating budget. - that’s money pumped back into our local economy.

Thomson prison is new, it’s practically vacant and our state can’t afford to fully open it. Yes, you can make an argument that we need it open. I, along with the citizens of Thomson have been making that argument for eight years. It’s time to plow new ground.


…Adding… Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk were both on Fox News one right after another in a pretty fascinating interview. Watch it

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  1. - Niles Township - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:12 am:

    A reasoned and reasonable view that more pols should pay attention too. GOP’ers should learn from this guy on any number of levels, and Quinn should learn how to use facts to support a position (instead of his usual emotion).

  2. - Northsider - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:20 am:

    I second Niles Township’s comments, adding only that it’s refreshing to see an apparently reality-based Republican who is NOT quaking in fear and wetting him/herself at the idea of treating these bums like the criminals that they are.

    But now that Rep. Sacia has let it be known in public that he’s governed by reason rather than fear, the “tea-baggers” will surely be gunning for him. Good luck with that, sir.

  3. - neo state worker - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:20 am:

    I concur. Well written and blissfully absent of the usual “hysteria” that has been surrounding this issue.

  4. - BigDog - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:25 am:

    This concurs with my opinions on the matter. The opposition has been reactionary and silly as far as I’m concerned.

  5. - Lefty Lefty - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:25 am:

    Don’t you hate when facts get in the way of a good hysterical political rant? Since the facts were known by many starting the hysteria in the first place, look for future allegations of laser beam eyes, telekinesis, and super-strength in the Gitmo detainees to further some political aims.

  6. - Louis Howe - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:26 am:

    Factual and well written….A model for reasoned bi-partisanship. He may disagree with closing Gismo, but he wasn’t willing to let that stop the practical decision to open Thompson. Too bad the GOP leadership doesn’t have his good sense.

  7. - fedup dem - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:29 am:

    My God! A thoughtful and intellegent Republican, who is holding elected office!? Contact the Interior Department ASAP to see that Rep. Sacia is protected like the other near-extinct species!

  8. - Wondering - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:31 am:

    Bravo! Rep. Sacia…

  9. - heet101 - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:36 am:

    Mark Kirk sounds like a bumbling idiot with his WAY out there innuendos. What the heck does he mean when he references the nuclear facility? How exactly does it matter to a nuclear power plant that a detainee is kept in a military wing of a federal prison? He didn’t make that distinction. The only talent Rep. Kirk has shown in his completely overblown reaction to this proposal is that he and his staff can quickly concoct clever nicknames on timely subject matters. Thassit.

  10. - Former State Employee - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:38 am:

    I wish Jim Sacia would have a little “sit down” with some of his current or former R colleagues, and see if he can confuse them with the facts. His is the most concise reflection of the situation I have read on either side of the political coin - go Jim!

  11. - Anon - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:42 am:

    A great commentary by a thoughtful legislator. If these detainees are moved to Thompson, it will require that the issue is researched thoroughly, and that the safety of the community will not be compromised. However, as he points out, this deliberation should be driven by reason, not by politics.

    Speaking of the politics, why are those republicans who publicly oppsose this so afraid of this issue? Dont they trust that our men and women in uniform can adequately guard thesse detainees? Are they afraid that these prisoners are stronger or smarter than out uniformed military personnel?

    Why are they so afraid of this?

  12. - Bluefish - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:43 am:

    Just when things seem completely upside-down (Dems arguing for strict law enforcement and GOPs arguing against job creation) Sacia has to come along a make sense of the situation. Now maybe people will start to calm down as the facts come out. Remember, the people of Thompson have wanted a working prison for their local economy for a long time.

  13. - reformer - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:46 am:

    Thank you Jim Sacia — a man whose GOP credentials are impeccable. Your thoughtful and reasoned comments are a refreshing contrast to the alarmist and partisan comments from Mark Kirk and the 7 GOP dwarfs running for governor.

  14. - Served - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:48 am:

    A thoughtful, articulate case for the sale of Thomson. I wish this would be printed on the front page of every newspaper in the state.

  15. - Moving to Oklahoma - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:49 am:

    This Column is well written, and Rep Sacia seems to have a good grasp on things. However I still don’t understand why all 100 need to be housed at Thomson.

    It would seem to me that even if you don’t believe there would be any attempted “jail break” that caution would lead one to house 20 of them at Thomson, 20 in Maine, 20 in Gerogia, 20 in Alabama, and 20 in Wyoming, or wherever, pick you state.

    Maybe I am being overly cautious, but throwing all 100 detainees in one location, in my opinion, creates an alluring target for Islamic terrorists. Will something bad happen, probably not, but why take the chance.

  16. - Secret Square - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:51 am:

    And don’t forget, Sacia is a former FBI agent himself, so he oughta know how much the bad guys are capable of.

  17. - Anonymous - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:56 am:

    ==It would seem to me that even if you don’t believe there would be any attempted “jail break” that caution would lead one to house 20 of them at Thomson, 20 in Maine, 20 in Gerogia, 20 in Alabama, and 20 in Wyoming, or wherever, pick you state.==

    Even if one accepted your premise that Thomson morphs into a high-profile target, your solution is creating five high-profile targets?

  18. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:57 am:

    No offense to Jonathan Monken, but this is exactly why I had suggested way back when that Gov. Quinn appoint Sacia head of the State Police.

  19. - Obamas' Puppy - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:58 am:

    Rep. Sacia has continued to impress me by his independence and well thought out positions. Make no mistake he is a conservative Republican, but a reasonable one whose opinion I respect immensly.

  20. - shore - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 10:59 am:

    Vintage Kirk, the line about meir kahane to appeal to jews. This state rep should focus on ways to grow jobs in his area that don’t involve terrorists. I also think it’s a major stretch to say that 100 terrorists will create 1 billion dollars worth of economic activity. these aren’t going to be high paying jobs.

    and on the political angle, a whole week where we aren’t talking about kirk’s issues with conservatives or pat hughes trip to meet with the tea party people in d.c.

  21. - Pat collins - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:01 am:

    And why did they meet with an IOWA congressman? Is that not in ILLINOIS? Why not meet with the man who represents that district?

    And the “US ARMY” runs that prison is indeed new. Maybe if they had let with that, they might not have had the uproar?

  22. - wordslinger - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:01 am:

    Hats off to Rep. Sacia, a sober, thoughtful, rational public servant.

    Both parties need more like him.

  23. - Third Generation Chicago Native - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:01 am:

    Sacia did a fantanstic job of pointing out facts, and remaining bipartisian throughout.

    It’s apparant that he has his constituents best interest at hand.

  24. - Secret Square - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:04 am:

    Pat, the Iowa congressman was most likely included because the prison is close enough to the border (Mississippi River) that Iowa residents are or could be employed there, and border community businesses would be affected.

  25. - Randolph - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:11 am:

    I’m a dem but I’ve known Jim since he entered the legislature and there are few people around the Capitol that I respect as much as I respect him. Kudos.

  26. - Loop Lady - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:13 am:

    A breath of freah air: A reasoned, rational bi partisan bit of thoughtfulness…Thank you!

  27. - Levois - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:14 am:

    I’m largely on the fence on this issue. Not sure I want to be next door to detainees from Camp Gitmo. These are suspect terrorists, but I might say this about some our homegrown criminals as well.

  28. - Randolph - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:18 am:


    I could be wrong about this, but I’m about 95% sure that Thomson actually resides in Boland’s district. Considering he’s running statewide, it’s completely unsurprising that he’s remained silent on the issue.

  29. - Pat collins - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:20 am:

    My point it, it should have been an Iowa state Rep. OR they should have asked Manzullo to be there as well.

    Doing otherwise, well, makes it look like a set up.

    We announce something, leave off details, let you go ballistic, then let out the details that make you look silly.

    And that 340 is an interesting number. In june, there was a debate, where the 340 figure was TERRORIST in jail, including the 93 world trade bombers.

    So, one wonders if 340 terrorists (including domestic, 93 WTC bombers ) has now magically become 340 GITMOs in US???

  30. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:25 am:

    ===We announce something, leave off details, let you go ballistic, then let out the details that make you look silly.===

    Y’know, there used to be something known as “waiting for more details before I freak out and start screaming that we’re all gonna die.” Pity you haven’t heard about that.

  31. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:26 am:

    Levois -

    Fortunately for you, you don’t live in Carroll County.

    According to the Chicago Tribune, local residents are pretty supportive of the idea. Here’s my favorite quote:

    Thomson Village President Jerry “Duke” Hebeler said Saturday that he met with state officials in October about the possibility of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to this rural outpost in the northwestern corner of the state. He said the state came up with the original idea but that he quickly bought into it, believing the people of Thomson and its surrounding communities would understand the bigger picture.

    “A murderer is a murderer no matter where he’s from,” Hebeler said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

  32. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:30 am:

    === Y’know, there used to be something known as “waiting for more details before I freak out and start screaming that we’re all gonna die.” Pity you haven’t heard about that. ===

    LOL. Well said.

    The problem is people who put politics BEFORE sound public policy.

    Mayor Daley used to say — whether it was lip service or not — “Good government IS good politics.”

    I’m fond of saying “Good government begins with listening.”

  33. - Die Hard Dem - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:31 am:

    Kudos to Rep. Sacia for taking a well thought out and informed approach to this issue. This is how our elected officials are supposed to act.

  34. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:34 am:

    …And regarding the politics of it, I’m guessing that anyone who was going to vote against Pat Quinn because of this issue was probably going to vote against him anyway.

    But I bet he picks up quite a few votes in Carroll and the surrounding counties with this move.

  35. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:40 am:

    You people are nuts. Kudos to a guy who fell for this? I love it when liberals praise conservatives for doing what wasn’t in their best interest. Yeah - he’s a genius.

    You people won’t support Sacia’s re-election regardless of his stand. You’re just happy to find a dupe.

  36. - grand old partisan - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:40 am:

    If my math is right, about 94% of the beds at the facility will be used for ‘regular’ federal prisoners. So, is the BOP planning to buy and staff a 1500 bed prison it doesn’t need just to provide economic justification for moving Gitmo detainees there? I would certainly hope not. Is the Gitmo thing a deal breaker, then? Can we still get all of these great jobs WITHOUT bringing in detainees from there? If not, why not?

    As for the outrage – it’s about timing and context: the AG just moved to put the 9/11 conspirators on trial in regular federal court. Now the DOD/BOJ want to move more of the Gitmo detainees into regular federal prisons (separate wings with more security and all that, but still…). This is part of a larger move back to the 90’s policies that treated terrorism as a law enforcement issue. People recognize, intuitively, that was both wrong and unsuccessful. These are not criminals, they are combatants. Perhaps calling them ‘soldiers’ is wrong in its own way, but I’d rather error in that direction than in the other.
    I don’t think many people even realized that we were already holding some of these people in Marion and elsewhere in the US. I don’t think finding that out is going make them feel more comfortable about the Thompson deal – it’s going to make them even more outraged that we have already started as far down this road as we have (and yes, if it was the Bush Administration that authorized those transfers, shame on them – they should have known better).

  37. - True Observer - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:43 am:

    “This Column is well written, and Rep Sacia seems to have a good grasp on things.”

    You bet he does.

    No opponent in the primary and even better no democrat filed for the general.

    He has nothing to lose and everything to gain by currying favor with the White House.

    Who knows maybe head of FBI?

  38. - wordslinger - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:46 am:

    That’s right, VMan, completely ignore Sacia’s well-reasoned points. You know you can’t compete at that level.

    And, of course, everyone who disagree’s with you is nuts or a dupe. That’s the level of discourse we’ve come to expect from you.

  39. - Randolph - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 11:55 am:


    I checked. Here are the maps, Thomson is in Boland’s district.

  40. - Northsider - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 12:02 pm:

    Leovis @ 11:14: They’ll be in a maximum security prison, not a halfway house in the neighborhood. They’re not going anywhere.

  41. - True Observer - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 12:13 pm:

    From QCOnline, by former Judge John Donald O’Shay

    “If Muslim terrorists are sophisticated — and barbaric — enough to hijack four airliners and kill 3,000 Americans, if one Muslim terrorist can kill 13 and wound 40-plus at Fort Hood, what happens if 20 jihadists seize four public schools in western Illinois, rig them with explosives and begin executing five kids per minute at each school until their fellow terrorists at Thomson are freed?”

    Will the silver have been worth it?

  42. - Secret Square - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 12:28 pm:

    “If Muslim terrorists are sophisticated — and barbaric — enough to hijack four airliners and kill 3,000 Americans”

    Actually that plot was remarkably UN-sophisticated — it relied mainly on box cutters and lax airport security.

    And as for the jihadist attack scenario, what’s to stop them from doing the same thing right now anywhere in the U.S. and demanding that their fellow terrorists at Gitmo, or any other location, be freed?

  43. - Downstate - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 12:41 pm:

    I have to question the 340 figure. No Gitmo detainee has been brought to the U.S. and placed in a civilian prison. In order to do so, they would have to been tried in a civilian court.

    Either Rep. Sacia doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s been fed bad info from Quinn’s staffers. Knowing Jack Lavin - the man once described China as an emerging democracy - I’m guessing it’s bad information from the state.

    The original WTC bombers are housed in federal prisons. I don’t know if any are still at Marion, but some were on 9/11, which caused a major panic/security issue that day at the penitentiary.

    Mexico and other third world countries are used to attacks on prisons, but we don’t see that too often in the U.S. However, it has happened in Marion when a helicopter was hijacked to fly into the prison to free a bank robber. The woman was killed in that action, but later her daughter (who also fell in love with the prisoner) hijacked a commercial airliner and flew into Williamson County Regional Airport. Her dynamite vest turned out to be road flares.

    Both of these attempts were by incompetents love-struck idiots. The average terrorist is a different nut altogether, but generally more effective.

  44. - Gregor - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 12:56 pm:

    True Observer, you need to watch less “24″.

  45. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 12:58 pm:

    Agreed, Gregor.

  46. - Will County Woman - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 2:10 pm:

    “If my math is right, about 94% of the beds at the facility will be used for ‘regular’ federal prisoners. So, is the BOP planning to buy and staff a 1500 bed prison it doesn’t need just to provide economic justification for moving Gitmo detainees there? I would certainly hope not. Is the Gitmo thing a deal breaker, then? Can we still get all of these great jobs WITHOUT bringing in detainees from there? If not, why not?” Grand Old Partisan—

    posted nearly three hours ago, and no one responded with any answers!?!?!?!?!?

    Do Sacia or Monken or Randle or Lavin or Happin or Quinn or Durbin or Obama have any answers for Grand Old Partisan?

  47. - Anonymous - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 2:16 pm:

    Second, as a state legislator I have no control over President Obama’s decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GITMO).

    I can understand why many are calling this “reasonable” and “refreshing”. Wouldn’t it all be so much easier if all Republicans decided to admit defeat and just went home instead of fighting to present their side of the debate?

    One of the things that’s become apparent to me over the last couple of days can be illustrated by this blog’s rules of debate on this particular issue–and is evidenced in Sacia’s thinking AND has been demonstrated in the way alot of the media are approaching this critical topic.

    (And for the record, I’m not complaining about the rules here; I know as well as everyone else does that this is an Illinois blog without Rich having to remind me.)

    However, continuing to separate a debate on all of the related and key issues–i.e., the closure of Guantanamo Bay, the Federal trials, and the transfer of prisoners to US Soil–is a grave mistake. While it’s a good strategy from a political perspective, it’s the wrong approach to take in making–and justifying–good decisions that have an impact on national security.

    As I’m sure everyone knows, just in the last day or two, Eric Holder has already faced alot of criticism regarding some statements he’s made regarding the upcoming trials. If anyone believes that what happens on the “world stage” in that regard will not have an impact on the perception people have of Illinois, too, you might want to re-think that.

    Again, it’s so much easier to compartmentalize complex and key issues and debates for political gain. BUT is it really the right thing to do, especially in this case?

  48. - Anonymous - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 2:35 pm:

    Anonymous 10:56, PLEASE get a new handle.

  49. - orlkon - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 3:09 pm:

    Transfer prisoner’s from Tamms Super Max to Thompson, then sell the Tamms to the Feds. Allows Feds to own a new Super Max, eliminates the complaints by the Tamms Ten-Year Group…Mental Health Services will also be more available in the northern part of the State!

  50. - Anonymous - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 3:36 pm:

    Have we discussed, or are we going to discuss, HR 762 calling for Quinn to stop negotiations with the Feds until the GA have an opportunity to review the transfer?

  51. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 3:39 pm:

    ===Have we discussed, or are we going to discuss, HR 762 ===

    Highly doubtful, except maybe to check with Sacia’s react. GA doesn’t reconvene until January, and then only for three days. It’s a common publicity stunt, little more. Also, if a regional Rep. was on board, it might be more newsworthy.

  52. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 4:18 pm:

    Pat Collins ==My point it, it should have been an Iowa state Rep. OR they should have asked Manzullo to be there as well.==

    Who says he wasn’t invited? Maybe he chose to stay away so as to not let the facts get in the way of his bloviation.

  53. - Will County Woman - Thursday, Nov 19, 09 @ 7:53 pm:

    Congressman Manzullo and the IL GOP Congressional Delegation wrote an excellent letter to Governor Quinn. The letter piggybacks on arguments made by then Kansas Governor Sebelius as to why Ft. Leavenworth Federal Prison was not ideal for the Gitmo detainees.

    As KS Gov, HHS Sec Sebelius opposed Gitmo at Ft Leavenworth; we have similar concerns for Thomson.

  54. - Dan Powell - Friday, Nov 20, 09 @ 12:35 am:

    Sacia makes a reasonable argument definitely. But, you have to remember, he has been lobbying hard to open this prison for 8 years. He would look pretty nuts if he suddenly refused a plan to open it.

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