House GOP slams Justice Department's Illinois prison purchase

House Republicans are furious over the White House's decision to purchase a maximum security prison in Illinois, a decision GOP lawmakers claim will set the stage for terrorist detainees to be housed inside the United States. 

The Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons will assume control of the Thomson Correctional Center in Thompson, Ill., under a deal struck between administration officials and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, according to recent news reports. 

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The Justice Department acquired the prison for $165 million, according to the terms of the deal. The state of Illinois officially shuttered the prison in April 2010. 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) praised the deal on Tuesday, saying the prison would create 1,100 new jobs in his state once the facility was opened.

But House Republicans have been opposed to the buy since the Obama administration, in 2009, began entertaining the idea of moving terror suspects from the U.S. military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States. 

GOP Reps. Hal Rogers (Ky.), who heads the House Appropriations Committee, and House Appropriations Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee chief Frank Wolf (Va.) said the White House was clearly overstepping congressional authority by moving ahead with the transfer. 

Rogers and Wolf led the Republican effort in the House to shut down the Thomson facility sale earlier this year. 

The “back-door move" by the administration to take control of the prison is "dangerously irresponsible ... and will be met with the full and unfettered opposition of the Appropriations Committee,” Rogers said in a statement Tuesday. 

“Today’s actions are just the latest in series of disconcerting moves by this Justice Department," Wolf added in his own statement.

The move not only casts aside appropriators' decision on the sale, but opens the door for the White House to shutter the U.S. prison in Cuba and bring terror detainees onto American shores, Wolf said. 

"I am concerned that this purchase will set in motion the administration’s plan to close the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay by transferring terrorist detainees to U.S. maximum security prisons, like Thomson," he said. 

The White House had repeatedly said it planned to close the Guantánamo Bay prison within President Obama's first term in office, but has acknowledged it will not be able to keep that promise. 

"The American people do not want Guantanamo detainees in the U.S., and should not have to tolerate the risk of these terrorists residing in their backyards,” Rogers said Tuesday. 

For his part, Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly promised to not transfer prisoners from Guantánamo to Thomson if the government re-opens the prison.

Thompson would be "a welcome addition" to the department's slate of federal prisons and would help alleviate overcrowding at other federal detention centers, he said during a June 12 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. 

"We will not move people from Guantanamo, regardless of the state of the law, to Thomson. That is my pledge as attorney general," Holder said at the time. 

Aside from the Guantánamo question, Rogers and Wolf argue the Thomson purchase is a bad investment by the White House, given the fiscal difficulties facing the Justice Department and other government agencies. 

The work needed to get Thomson up to the level of a maximum security federal prison would end up costing twice as much as the initial $165 million price tag, according to Rogers. 

Additionally, the Justice Department already owns four closed state prisons in Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Hampshire, Wolf pointed out. 

"In the very least, the purchase of Thomson [correctional facility] is a waste, and as a Guantanamo-like facility, it could be a disaster,” Rogers added.