Thomson Prison told it can hire workers directly

THOMSON – Thomson Prison can now hire workers directly, three members of the Illinois Congressional delegation announced on Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-17th district, joined U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth in issuing a joint statement that said the Bureau of Prisons had approved the request.

The prison has a backlog of applications for 65 correctional officer positions, but the process has been delayed by the screening process.

“I’m pleased the Bureau of Prisons has granted our requests to provide the hiring process a boost and cut through red tape,” Bustos said.

The news was greeted enthusiastically by the local union, which had been working alongside management to address the staffing shortages at the high-security federal prison.

“This is a big first step,” said Jon Zumkehr, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 4070, which has been pushing for this change for 18 months. “We extend our thanks to Senators Durbin and Duckworth and Representative Bustos for leading this fight and supporting the workers at USP Thomson.”

Last week, the lawmakers successfully secured a 10 percent retention pay incentive for all Thomson staff as well as accelerated promotions for correctional officers. Last November, the lawmakers also got a 25% recruitment bonus for new hires at the facility. They continue their push for a 25 percent retention bonus, aligned with the request of AFGE Local 4070.

“After a tumultuous year at USP Thomson, I’m pleased to see BOP delegate direct hiring authority to the institution,” Durbin said. “Now, USP Thomson can remedy its hiring shortage and ensure that the facility is properly staffed with guards, medical professionals, teachers, and administrators to more effectively address the needs of inmates and fully implement the First Step Act. Today’s announcement is welcome news.”

The First Step Act requires the Attorney General to develop a risk and needs assessment system to be used by federal prisons to assess the recidivism risk and other needs of all federal prisoners.

Addressing the staffing shortage was a safety issue, Duckworth said. “Ongoing vacancies at USP Thomson make it more difficult for the Bureau of Prisons to carry out its mission and protect safety,” she said.

The three lawmakers had sent a joint letter April 16 to Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal and Office of Personnel Management Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan asking for Thomson employees to receive the retention bonuses and to match pay with Chicago-area corrections.