USP Thomson employees allege 275 sexual assaults from inmates so far this year

Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 11:10 AM CST
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THOMSON, Illinois (KWQC) - The American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing correctional officers and staff at USP Thomson, is calling on prison management to address rampant sexual assault and misconduct by inmates directed at employees.

According to the union, in 2020, there were 971 incidents of inmates engaging in sexual misconduct against staff at the high-security federal prison. In 2021, they say there were 535 sexual assaults. So far this year, there have been 275 incidents, according to AFGE Local 4070.

“Many of these incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct would qualify for criminal prosecution if they occurred outside the prison, but too often inmates engage in this type of deviant behavior without any consequences,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “These incidents create a hostile and unsafe workplace for correctional officers and staff. It is incumbent upon prison management to address these incidents and create a safe environment for employees.”

Many of the incidents involve inmates exposing themselves or masturbating in front of staff, AFGE Local 4070 President Jon Zumkehr said. Employees have reported having mental health problems and stress-reduced illness due to these encounters.

“These incidents have contributed greatly to the prison’s difficulties in recruiting and retaining correctional officers and staff, which results in overworked employees and increased costs for taxpayers,” Zumkehr said. “Left uncorrected, inmates become emboldened and often escalate their actions directed at staff to more violent levels.”

In addition to penalizing inmates who engage in such behavior, the union is asking prison management to provide additional resources to employees who are the victims of these assaults.

“Victims of sexual assault crimes experience significant trauma, and these profound and understandable fears may keep victims from coming forward,” AFGE National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Jeremy Lannan said. “Survivors of sexual assault crimes deserve compassionate treatment from law enforcement, both to prevent retraumatizing the victim and to ensure a successful investigation and prosecution of their attacker. Trauma-informed care can make a significant difference for victims trying to heal as well as for law enforcement in responding to these crimes.”

TV6 reached out to the Bureau of Prisons for comment on the allegations.

The BOP responded, “The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and United States Penitentiary (USP) Thomson shares the concerns about the frequency of instances where incarcerated individuals are exposing themselves to employees and engaging in sexual self-gratification. This sort of behavior is reprehensible and can have a damaging impact on law enforcement officers who already work in a challenging environment.

USP Thomson provides training annually to all staff regarding strategies for addressing inmate sexual misconduct. This includes identifying a range of inappropriate sexual behaviors, staff responsibilities for successful correctional management of inmate sexual misconduct; common motivators for inmate sexual misconduct, and recommended responses, including writing Incident Reports and notifying an immediate supervisor.

During the intake process, the USP Thomson screens for high-risk inmates, and all inmates receive information explaining the agency’s zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse and sexual harassment. The inmate population is provided clear expectations for appropriate behavior and increased monitoring may be required for identified high-risk inmates.

Due to the complex mission of USP Thomson, the number of incidents with individuals engaging in these behaviors have been higher. In response, additional measures have been implemented.

  • USP Thomson has developed and implemented alternative security enhancements to identified cell doors of individuals who engage in sexual acts.
  • USP Thomson is attempting to address the core behaviors causing sexual acts, while establishing a plan to balance the need for additional security measures and reducing the frequency employee exposure.
  • USP Thomson continues to educate employees concerning the handling and reporting of sexual acts, to include possible referral to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), Inmate Discipline Program and prosecution protocols, and the involvement of the Multi-Disciplinary Committee, who is responsible for comprehensive individualized behavioral plans following the commission of prohibited and sexual acts.

Federal legislators have been vocal about safety concerns at USP Thomson. TV6 contacted several local legislators for comment.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin responded, “These allegations are serious and alarming, and the moment my office was made aware of them, we called on the Federal Bureau of Prisons to respond to these claims and to take immediate action to ensure the safety of its staff is protected. I take these allegations very seriously, and will continue to push BOP to get to the bottom of this and take any appropriate action.”

Senator Joni Ernst’s office responded, “Senator Ernst’s staff continues to engage with BOP and is encouraging them to take swift action to protect their employees.”