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Ill. prison to house terror detainees

Some will be moved from Guantánamo Bay to a prison near the border with Iowa.

The Obama administration planned to announce today that it has picked the Thomson Correctional Center in western Illinois to house some detainees now held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an administration official said.

President Obama has directed the federal government to proceed with the acquisition of the prison 150 miles west of Chicago to house federal inmates and a limited number of Guantánamo Bay prisoners, the official said.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin were to be in Washington today to be briefed at the White House on the decision, Quinn's office said.

News that the administration was considering the mostly vacant state prison for detainees broke last month. Obama has vowed to close the detention facility in Cuba and needed to find another place for the detainees' confinement.

The prison along the Iowa-Illinois border would house fewer than 100 of Guantánamo's 215 detainees, Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber and a promoter of the idea, has said.

Top Democratic politicians in Illinois have backed the plan because it could add more than 2,000 jobs to the area. Republicans have opposed it because they say it presents too many security threats.

The federal government would acquire the state prison and run it as a federal penitentiary, leasing a portion of it to the Department of Defense for the terrorism suspects, administration officials have previously said.

Illinois completed construction of the prison in 2001 to house its most dangerous inmates, although a state budget crisis has left it mostly unused, with about 140 inmates in the 1,600 available cells.

Representatives of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security toured it last month.

A preliminary administration analysis estimated the project would inject more than $1 billion into the area's economy over the first four years, adding between 2,340 and 3,250 jobs. The spending would come from operation of the prison, construction expenditures, salaries, and visitors to the area, according to the analysis.

The unemployment rate in Carroll County, where the facility is located, is 10.5 percent, Quinn's office said.