WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and lead cosponsor of the First Step Act; U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL); and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) today announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) is investigating allegations concerning a Bureau of Prison (BOP) facility in Thomson, Illinois. Today’s announcement follows a letter the lawmakers sent to IG Michael Horowitz last week calling for an immediate federal investigation into a disturbing new report published by NPR and the Marshall Project that details the deaths of seven incarcerated men and allegations of serious abuses by staff at the United States Penitentiary Thomson (USP Thomson).
“Inspector General Horowitz has heeded our calls and agreed to investigate these deeply disturbing allegations at USP Thomson. I was shaken when I read reports of what is allegedly taking place behind closed doors at Thomson. The IG must get to the bottom of these allegations immediately,” Durbin said. “This is another sad example of the mounting crises at BOP. It is past time for Attorney General Garland and Deputy Attorney General Monaco to appoint a reform-minded Director who is not a product of the BOP bureaucracy.”
“I’m glad to see the Department of Justice Inspector General answering our call to investigate the disturbing allegations of serious abuses by staff at USP Thomson,” Duckworth said. “The reports of this troubling conduct is unacceptable, and we must learn more to prevent incidents like these from ever happening again. I’ll keep working with Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Bustos to make sure we’re doing all we can to address these allegations of abuse.”
“Last week, I joined Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to call on the Department of Justice to immediately investigate serious abuse allegations and the disturbing deaths of seven incarcerated men at USP Thomson. I’m pleased that the Inspector General has officially opened an investigation,” Bustos said. “The safety of employees and those incarcerated must be our top priority – and any misconduct must be met with the full consequences of the law.”
Durbin, Duckworth, and Bustos have long fought to address the staffing crisis at USP Thomson and throughout BOP. In April 2021, the lawmakers sent a letter to then-BOP Director Michael Carvajal and Acting Director of OPM Kathleen McGettigan urging the administrators to support USP Thomson’s request for a 25 percent retention bonus for nearly all staff, which the lawmakers had been advocating for since 2020. That funding was successfully secured five months later.
Further, as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Durbin has prioritized oversight of BOP facilities. In April 2021, the Committee held a BOP oversight hearing with then-Director Carvajal to address chronic understaffing issues and other concerns. After the Bureau leadership’s failure to address concerns raised at the hearing, such as their failure to implement critical reforms under the First Step Act, and following an Associated Press investigation that found BOP is a “hotbed of abuse, graft and corruption, and has turned a blind eye to employees accused of misconduct,” Durbin called on Attorney General Garland to dismiss Director Carvajal. Carvajal’s resignation was announced less than two months later. Stunningly, the Department has yet to appoint a successor, and Carvajal is still in charge of BOP, despite his record of significant mismanagement.