WASHINGTON – The head of the union local representing federal correctional officers and staff at U.S. Penitentiary Thomson in Illinois is echoing lawmakers’ concerns about the safety of workers and inmates following reports that two inmates at the high-security prison have tested positive for COVID-19.
“Our main concern is the lack of testing for staff and inmates and our critically low staffing at USP Thomson,” American Federation of Government Employees Local 4070 President Jon Zumkehr said.
“We are calling on BOP Director Michael Carvajal to test all staff and inmates, to address our staffing shortages, and to implement hazard pay for all officers and staff who are risking their health and safety simply by reporting to work each day,” Zumkehr said.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, whose district includes the prison, issued a joint statement Thursday with U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth from Illinois calling out the Bureau of Prisons for failing to test inmates for weeks and for still not testing correctional officers and staff. Two inmates who were transferred to USP Thomson in late April from Metropolitan Correction Center in Chicago tested positive for COVID-19, the lawmakers said.
The prison is currently short about 165 officers, which is forcing remaining staff to work mandatory second shifts.
“The federal law enforcement officers at USP Thomson are doing an amazing job day in and day out, but they are just getting worn out at this point,” Zumkehr said. “We’ve taken the proper precautionary measures as far as cleaning and keeping our social distancing as best as we can in a prison environment.”
During a Senate hearing Tuesday, BOP Medical Director Jeffrey Allen said testing officers and staff for COVID-19 would limit the agency’s ability to provide health care to inmates. He said employees instead would need to be tested through state and local health departments.
AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Shane Fausey issued a statement Thursday in response, calling on BOP to prioritize the voluntary testing of all employees and saying that failure to do so is “irresponsible and objectionable.”