When we met with community leaders in Thomson just more than six months ago to brief them on progress and next steps in the activation of the prison, we were upfront about the challenges on the horizon.
While federal officials were committed to opening the vacant prison, we continued to face an uphill battle in securing the necessary funding to begin that process. Just two weeks later, a standoff over the federal budget led to a Tea Party-backed government shutdown. But when the spending bill finally passed in January of this year, it included the $53 million we had secured to begin the activation process for Thomson.
Last week, the Department of Justice took the important step of officially committing that funding to renovations, equipment purchases and staffing necessary to open Thomson. Doing so ensures that work on the prison will soon begin and confirms the Obama administration’s commitment to a fully operational Thomson. This is the news we’ve been waiting for.
The DOJ action allows the construction needed to upgrade the facility to federal standards to begin, and it means workers will soon be able to compete for good-paying jobs at the prison.
At our meeting last September, Bill Dalius, the Bureau of Prison’s assistant director for administration, told community leaders that once the funding was committed to Thomson, as it was last week, the agency would hire 300 people in the first year and many hundreds more the following year. We expect that process to begin shortly.
While the area’s economy is recovering, unemployment still lingers around 8 percent. A fully operational Thomson prison will be a major economic asset expected to create more than 1,100 jobs and pump more than $200 million into the local economy each year.
BOP has said it will take two years to open Thomson. We are committed to making sure the activation process moves ahead on schedule. Fully activating the prison next year will require the Department of Justice to commit an additional $15 million for upgrades and renovations and $130 million for equipment and staffing.
Securing that funding will be among our highest priorities in the coming year. We’ve asked the president to include Thomson as a fiscal year 2015 priority and intend to do all we can through the congressional appropriations process to make sure the additional funding needed to fully activate Thomson is allocated.
We won’t rest until the dormant facility is put to good use and the people in the surrounding communities can enjoy all the economic benefits of a fully functioning Thomson. They have waited long enough.