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Drug exposure during mail screening sends USP Thomson officer to hospital

Weeks after a Thomson officer had a synthetic drug exposure, another officer needed treatment for a drug exposure that occurred while screening mail Tuesday.

THOMSON, Ill. — UPDATE (11 a.m. March 17): A spokesperson for U.S. Penitentiary Thomson revealed more information about incidents that took place Tuesday, March 15 at the prison in Thomson, Illinois.

A housing unit officer was sorting inmate mail at about 4:30 p.m. in his assigned housing unit when he began showing symptoms of a drug exposure, the spokesperson said. The inmate mail in question tested positive for amphetamines, and the officer was transported to a local hospital for treatment. He was later released.

In another incident a few hours later, staff found 35-year-old inmate James Everett unresponsive. He was later pronounced dead, the spokesperson said.

Everett's death remained under investigation as of Thursday morning, and an autopsy was pending.

UPDATE (6:30 p.m. March 16): An officer at U.S. Penitentiary Thomson was hospitalized for possible exposure to a suspicious substance Tuesday night, Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Donald Murphy said. The staff member was released later that night.

According to the bureau, prison staff identified a "suspicious substance contained in an incoming correspondence" at about 4:30 p.m. March 15. The inmates were then secured in their housing units, and the institution was placed on a modified operational status.

Institution specialists determined the substance was non-hazardous, and the area was deemed safe, Murphy said.

Murphy said one staffer was released from the hospital after being evaluated for potential exposure, and no other staff members or inmates were injured.

An internal investigation into the incident was ongoing as of Wednesday night.

ORIGINAL (8 a.m. March 16): A prison officer was hospitalized Tuesday after an alleged drug exposure at U.S. Penitentiary Thomson, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.

In a statement released Tuesday night, AFGE Local 4070 President Jon Zumkehr said the officer was sorting mail in one of the prison housing units at Thomson when the alleged exposure took place. After treatment at a local hospital, the officer was released later that day.

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The incident came just three weeks after another officer at Thomson was hospitalized for synthetic drug exposure, Zumkehr said. During mail screenings, officers are responsible for detecting dangerous contraband, such as drugs, to prevent it from entering the prison.

According to the AFGE, Thomson is currently short 75 positions in custody and 10 positions in medical, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons states the prison currently has a population of nearly 1,000 inmates.

Zumkehr said the union has asked prison management to reenlist search and shakedown teams that were eliminated through staffing cuts.

For years, Thomson has struggled with staffing issues and high turnover.

News 8 reported last year that nurses, counselors, psychologists and other employees were being made to work as correctional officers due to the lack of staff. Union employees also noted high amounts of mandated overtime to cover for the lack of workers.

In an effort to combat high turnover of staff, Bureau of Prisons approved 25% retention bonuses after a year's employment at Thomson.

News 8 has reached out to the prison for comment on the incident and has yet to hear back.

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