THOMSON, Ill. – The American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing correctional officers and staff at USP Thomson, is calling on prison management to address rampant sexual assault and misconduct by inmates directed at employees.
In 2020, there were 971 incidents of inmates engaging in sexual misconduct against staff at the high-security federal prison. In 2021, there were 535 such incidents. So far this year, there have been 275 incidents.
“Many of these incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct would qualify for criminal prosecution if they occurred outside the prison, but too often inmates engage in this type of deviant behavior without any consequences,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “These incidents create a hostile and unsafe workplace for correctional officers and staff. It is incumbent upon prison management to address these incidents and create a safe environment for employees.”
Many of the incidents involve inmates exposing themselves or masturbating in front of staff, AFGE Local 4070 President Jon Zumkehr said. Employees have reported having mental health problems and stress-reduced illness due to these encounters.
“These incidents have contributed greatly to the prison’s difficulties in recruiting and retaining correctional officers and staff, which results in overworked employees and increased costs for taxpayers,” Zumkehr said. “Left uncorrected, inmates become emboldened and often escalate their actions directed at staff to more violent levels.”
In addition to penalizing inmates who engage in such behavior, the union is asking prison management to provide additional resources to employees who are the victims of these assaults.
“Victims of sexual assault crimes experience significant trauma, and these profound and understandable fears may keep victims from coming forward,” AFGE National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices Jeremy Lannan said. “Survivors of sexual assault crimes deserve compassionate treatment from law enforcement, both to prevent retraumatizing the victim and to ensure a successful investigation and prosecution of their attacker. Trauma-informed care can make a significant difference for victims trying to heal as well as for law enforcement in responding to these crimes.”