At What Cost? Moving Guantanamo Inmates To Ill. The Obama administration says moving detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Thomson, Ill., will create about 3,000 jobs in the region. But some experts say in reality, small towns rarely see long-term economic gains from having prisons. A state commission will hold a holding a public hearing Tuesday on the administration's plan to acquire the prison about 150 miles west of Chicago.
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At What Cost? Moving Guantanamo Inmates To Ill.

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At What Cost? Moving Guantanamo Inmates To Ill.

At What Cost? Moving Guantanamo Inmates To Ill.

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There is a public hearing today that could tell us more about a plan to move terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay to a nearly vacant state prison in Illinois. That hearing is being held by a state commission and the federal government may reveal more details of the Obama administration's plan to acquire the prison. The public hearing is also expected to be contentious. Those who support bringing the detainees to the prison see jobs; opponents see terrorism. NPR's David Schaper has this report.

Ms. BEVERLY PERLSON: This is my son John and here is his certificate to receive the Bronze Star medal.

DAVID SCHAPER: Among the many photos of her children and grandchildren hanging on her living room wall, there is one that makes Beverly Perlson especially proud. It's a picture of her son John in fatigues with rifle in hand, and the picture is surrounded by the 17 medals he earned in four tours of dirty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ms. PERLSON: You know, they're very representative of the very brave men who love country.

SCHAPER: Perlson is founder of a military support group called The Band of Mothers. Though her son has since left the Army, his service and that of others brings tears to her eyes.

Ms. PERLSON: And to bring these terrorists over here is - it's a slap in their face.

SCHAPER: Perlson says the Obama administration's plan to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and move up to 100 suspected terrorists to a state prison about 100 miles away from her suburban Aurora home is ludicrous and will make the entire region a magnet for terrorists.

But many of those who live in and around the prison in Thompson, Illinois, a depressed Mississippi River town of about 500 people, feel differently.

Mr. RUSS SIMPSON (Tri-County Economic Development Alliance): It's a big deal. We refer to it often as the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.

SCHAPER: Russ Simpson is with the Tri-County Economic Development Alliance in the Thompson area.

Mr. SIMPSON: Three thousand jobs is a lot of jobs. If it's half of that, it's more jobs than Northwest Illinois has experienced for a long time.

SCHAPER: Simpson says the area has an unemployment rate near 11 percent, while the maximum security prison built just eight years ago sits nearly empty. Illinois's legislature and governors have never fully funded operations, so now it houses fewer than 200 inmates.

The Obama administration wants to purchase the prison and use it for bulk Guantanamo detainees and other federal inmates. The White House claims acquiring the prison, upgrading it and moving the prisoners in will create up to 3,800 new jobs and pump close to a billion dollars into the region's economy over four years.

But will Thompson really gain?

Professor TERRY BESSER (Iowa State University): It does not end up being a benefit for the community. In fact, overall it tends to be a loss.

SCHAPER: Terry Besser is a sociologist at Iowa State University who has studied the economic impact of new prisons on small towns.

Prof. BESSER: See, the thing is that jobs come there but the people don't necessarily. So people are commuting to these positions.

SCHAPER: Besser adds that local residents often don't qualify for many prison jobs, and suppliers of food, uniforms and other prison needs often aren't nearby. In fact, the administration's own economic impact analysis actually includes a huge seven-county region in Illinois and Iowa.

Still, Russ Simpson and others say any job created is one more than the region has today. He and other boosters will be testifying at today's public hearing being held by a legislative commission. Beverly Perlson and other opponents will be there too. The hearing is one of the first formal steps in the lengthy process of the state selling the prison.

Even if the hearing goes smoothly, congressional approval and funding is needed. So it could be a year or longer before any Guantanamo detainees could make the move to Thompson, Illinois.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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