Officials said that opening the Thomson prison in Illinois would make federal prisons safer by relieving dangerous overcrowding. An investigation by The Marshall Project and NPR found that the newest U.S. penitentiary has quickly become one of the deadliest, with five suspected homicides and two alleged suicides since 2019. Dozens of men said they lived under the pressing threat of violence from cellmates as well as brutality at the hands of staff. Many men reported being shackled in cuffs so tight they left scars, or being "four-pointed" and chained by each limb to a bed for hours, far beyond what happens at other prisons and in violation of Bureau of Prisons policy and federal regulations. At Thomson, some call it "the dungeon" or "the torture room." It's where men say they are locked in hand and ankle cuffs so tight they leave scars and nerve damage, contend filings in federal court. Others claimed in lawsuits that they were four-pointed, spread-eagle and immobile, for hours at a time.
Several inmates claimed in legal filings that they were put in paper clothes, denied food and water, and forced to lie in their own urine and feces. Prisoners said officers would fabricate reasons to justify restraining them, writing on internal forms that they were making threats or slipped their hands out of cuffs and hit a guard. Federal prisons are facing growing scrutiny over outbreaks of violence and abuse by officers. Understaffing at many prisons escalated to crisis levels during the pandemic, increasing risks for staff and inmates alike. In response, the Senate has formed a new group to investigate federal prison operations, and Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal announced his resignation in January. There's been little national attention paid to the ongoing violence at Thomson. Officials have struggled to lure enough officers to Thomson, a village of under 1,000 people amid a nationwide prison staff shortage and a hiring freeze under former President Trump.