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Troubled Illinois prison will soon house low-security inmates

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin confirmed the first unit of prisoners will begin arriving the week of April 10.

THOMSON, Ill. — Less than a month after high-security inmates were bussed out of the prison, the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced that United States Penitentiary Thomson's mission change will now be housing low-security inmates. 

That's according to an email from Randilee Glasmusso with the Federal Bureau of Prison's Office of Congressional and Public Affairs. 

The email sent Friday morning says Thomson will "ultimately house 1,178 low-security inmates; relieving some of the current overpopulation pressures the BOP is experiencing at low-security facilities nationwide." 

A separate email from Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin confirmed the inmates will begin arriving at Thomson the week of April 10 starting with one unit a month. 

The BOP told News 8 back in February that it recently discovered "significant concerns with respect to institutional culture and compliance with BOP policies" at the prison. 

Due to this, the BOP moved all high-security inmates from Thomson's special management and reintegration units to other facilities in the BOP system. The minimum-security camp at Thomson will not be impacted during this transition. 

Despite the change in inmate population, the BOP's website still lists Thomson as one of only six high-security prisons in the country, as of Friday morning. 

Additional associate wardens have been assigned to assist with the transition of the facility. They'll also be tasked with providing oversight and training to Thomson staff as they get used to working with a new, lower-security population. 

Senator Durbin's office says there will be no impact on staffing levels at the prison. 

"Today's announcement is good news for the Thomson facility -- it remains part of the Federal prison system, with no elimination of staffing positions, and it will help relieve some of the current overpopulation pressures BOP is experiencing at low-security facilities nationwide." 

Senator Tammy Duckworth later released her own statement regarding the conversion:

“Temporarily converting USP Thomson to a low-security facility is a critically important move that will allow for no loss of staffing positions and help alleviate overpopulation nationwide in the federal prison system. We know more reform and more training is needed to ensure Thomson is both safe and secure, and I look forward to seeing how this change can make a positive impact on the facility.” 

But in a letter, the president of the prisons staff union AFGE Local 4070, Jon Zumkehr, said the union is concerned. 

"With the possibility of a reduction in the number of staff from 604 to 250 staff, we are very concerned. The local community was promised over 600 jobs and if these jobs are cut, it would devastate the local community," Zumker said. 

He added the union is fighting to keep every job at Thomson. While the BOP has said no positions will be lost, the prison is authorized for 604 staff members and will not be rehiring people if they quit. 

Glasmusso's email says a "thorough search" of the facility has been conducted along with "thorough cleaning." Repairs have been done to prepare the facility for the new prison population. 

"The institution will enhance program offerings to include expanding visiting opportunities for a low-security population and will provide First Step Act programs to include GED classes, English as a Second Language (ESL), ACT Workkeys (i.e., work assessment system), Release Preparation Programming (RPP), apprenticeship programs, Advanced Occupational Education (AOE) Programs (which affords inmates an opportunity to further their education above the high school level), and Vocational Training," according to Glamusso. 

All of this comes on the heels of reported violence among inmates and staff, drug exposures in the mailroom and calls for the warden's removal. News 8 has previously reported on the hundreds of alleged sexual assaults from inmates and drug exposures. The U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into USP Thomson in June 2022. 

Watch more coverage of USP Thomson on News 8's YouTube channel

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