WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing federal correctional officers and staff across the country, is calling for the removal of the warden at USP Thomson in northwest Illinois over his failure to address the rampant sexual assault and misconduct of employees by inmates at the high-security prison.
There were 321 incidents in 2022 of inmates engaging in sexual misconduct against staff at the high-security federal prison, which houses about 800 prisoners. Many of the incidents involve inmates exposing themselves or masturbating in front of staff.
“Our union has raised repeated concerns about this persistent pattern of abuse, but nothing has been done in response,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “Employees are being subjected to this criminal behavior repeatedly yet are getting no support from their employer in putting an end to this cycle. This failure of leadership must be addressed.”
AFGE Local 4070, which represents workers at the prison, has sent letters to the Department of Justice and engaged members of the area’s congressional delegation to also call for action to be taken to protect the correctional officers and staff who work in the prison. Many of these incidents would qualify for criminal prosecution if they occurred outside the prison, but inmates have been engaging in this type of behavior against sworn law enforcement officers with no consequences.
“These incidents create a hostile and unsafe workplace for correctional officers and staff, and the failure of prison management to protect its employees is deeply disturbing,” said AFGE District 7 National Vice President Jason Anderson, whose district includes federal employees working in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
While toxic leadership adversely affects any organization, it is most destructive in the public sector – deteriorating employee morale, eroding public trust, negatively affecting recruitment and retention, and in this instance directly threatening the safety of all employees, AFGE Council of Prison Locals National President Shane Fausey said.
“In recent months, the actions of the warden of USP Thomson demonstrates a culture of indignity, rampant sexually abusive behaviors towards employees, and unsafe prison conditions,” Fausey said. “Ineffective discipline, or the absence of effective disciplinary responses to the most egregious offender misconduct, breeds an atmosphere of resentment and hostility, permits a continuation of criminal conduct, and emboldens the most deviant offenders to an escalation of more violent behaviors. Before an employee is seriously injured or killed, we call upon the senior leadership of the BOP to immediately intervene in the toxic leadership of USP Thomson and effectively protect the employees, by any means necessary.”
Employees have reported having mental health problems and stress-reduced illness due to these encounters, AFGE Local 4070 President Jon Zumkehr said.
“Imagine working up the courage to speak up about these incidents yet being ignored by those in charge,” Zumkehr said. “The lack of response from management has only emboldened inmates, and we are very fearful the next attack will be physical. We have given Warden Thomas Bergami plenty of opportunity to address these incidents, yet his failure to do so leaves us with no choice but to demand his removal.”
Failing to act on employees’ complaints retraumatizes victims and discourages others from coming forward, AFGE National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Jeremy Lannan said.
“Victims of sexual assault crimes need to be taken seriously and deserve compassionate treatment – especially from their employer,” Lannan said.