Thomson Federal Prison has been cleared to hire its own correctional officers.
After pressure from Illinois Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, the Office of Personnel Management has approved direct-hire authority for USP Thomson, which will help the prison address its staffing shortage by cutting through a backlog of applications and speeding up the hiring process for up to 65 new correctional officers.
The lawmakers also secured a 10% retention pay bonus for all employees to help curb staff turnover.
"After a tumultuous year at USP Thomson, I’m pleased to see (the Bureau of Prisons) delegate direct hiring authority to the institution," Durbin said in a press release. "Now USP Thomson can remedy its hiring shortage and ensure that the facility is properly staffed with guards, medical professionals, teachers and administrators to more effectively address the needs of inmates and fully implement the First Step Act."
The First Step Act was signed into law in 2018 as a way to reduce prison populations through criminal justice reform and reduce recidivism rates.
USP Thomson is a high-security facility that currently houses 1,178 male offenders — 1,071 at the main facility and 107 at the adjacent satellite camp in Thomson, Ill.
Jonathan Zumkehr, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 4070, Council of Prison Locals No. 33, AFL-CIO, thanked Duckworth, Durbin and Bustos for "taking our staffing crisis seriously and working with AFGE Local 4070."
"The high-security federal prison has suffered from critical shortages of correctional officers and staff due to low pay and lack of affordable housing," Zumkehr said.
"Ongoing vacancies at USP Thomson make it more difficult for the Bureau of Prisons to carry out its mission and protect safety," Duckworth said in a press release. "I’m pleased that BOP has granted our requests to give Thomson direct hiring authority. This is an important change that will help ensure Thomson has the resources it needs to keep staff and inmates protected."
"I’m pleased the Bureau of Prisons has granted our requests to provide the hiring process a boost and cut through red tape," Bustos said in a press release. "I thank Senators Durbin and Duckworth for their partnership on this issue and will continue to work alongside them to put forward initiatives to recruit and retain staff."
Zumkehr said the AFGE Local 4070 has also submitted a request to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management asking for permission to offer a 25% retention pay increase to all officers and staff.
"This is a big first step. AFGE Local 4070 members have been fighting for 25% recruitment pay and direct hire authority for 18 months," Zumkehr said. "We extend our thanks to Senators Durbin and Duckworth and Rep. Bustos for leading this fight and supporting the workers at USP Thomson."