Three members of Congress called for an immediate federal investigation into violence and abuse at the U.S. penitentiary in Thomson, Il. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Cheri Bustos, all Democrats from Illinois, told Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz that it was "imperative" he look into allegations that staff purposefully housed prisoners with people they knew would be violent, and subjected them to painful restraints for hours or sometimes days, report the Marshall Project and NPR. "If these reports prove accurate, they describe conduct that would almost certainly contravene numerous [Bureau of Prisons] policies, as well as infringing the civil rights of individuals in BOP custody and possibly violating federal criminal statutes," wrote the lawmakers, who called the initial report by the two news organizations "disturbing." Lawmakers asked Horowitz to look into the role staffing shortages have played at Thomson, a serious problem since its opening.
Five men have been killed at Thomson since 2019, making the facility one of the deadliest federal prisons. Beyond threats from other prisoners, dozens of incarcerated people at Thomson said they faced frequent abuse at the hands of guards. Many said in letters, lawsuits and interviews that they were shackled in cuffs so tight they left scars, and often went without food, water or a toilet. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons said that allegations of misconduct were "taken seriously" and referred to the Inspector General for investigation. Durbin will lead a hearing on "the continued overuse of solitary confinement and restricted housing in BOP, including at USP Thomson." Durbin says 7.8 percent of federal prisoners are currently in restricted housing. The Thomson facility was built by the Illinois state prison system but later bought by the Justice Department. Thomson is home to the Special Management Unit, a notorious prison program meant to house some of the system's most dangerous and volatile people — though many have ended up there who don't fit that description. The unit was previously housed at the penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa.