Thomson prison guards are being sickened by mailed-in drugs – Quad-City Times

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The union representing correctional officers at Thomson Federal Prison is seeking to have positions in search and shake-down teams restored to help prevent drugs from coming into the facility.
Two guards at Thomson Federal Prison have required medical attention in the past month after being exposed to illegal drugs.
The union representing Thomson correctional officers, American Federation of Government Employees Local 4070, is asking the Bureau of Prisons to restore positions in search and shake-down teams at the prison to help detect the drugs. The positions were lost in staffing cuts.
In a case Tuesday, a correctional officer was opening mail when he unknowingly came into contact with a letter that had been soaked in methamphetamine, said Jon Zumkehr, president of Local 4070.
“It resulted in a violent reaction, and the officer immediately started throwing up,” he said. “He was treated at the hospital.”
Thomson Bureau of Prisons Correctional Officer Jonathan Zumkehr has been named American Fede…
Encountering letters that have been soaked in various drugs for inmates to consume is not a problem that is specific to Thomson, Zumkehr said, but the prison in Carroll County is not equipped to spot the drugs. Another officer was exposed just three weeks ago, he said.
The union now is asking the Bureau of Prisons to restore positions that were removed from the hiring roster and to buy an ion scanner, which is used in many prisons to detect illegal substances and hazardous chemicals on mail.
“It would be a proactive approach that would help staff and inmates by eliminating drugs in the prison,” Zumkehr said of the equipment request. Other prisons also use automatically sorted mail systems that takes photo copies of letter to inmates, so the original documents are not circulated in the facility.
At federal prisons throughout the United States, fentanyl, carfentanil, K2, suboxone, ecstasy, synthetic cocaine, and other substances are introduced through the prison mail, causing an increasing number of staff to become ill from accidental exposure.
The cost for a pre-screen system in general mail is $40 million and another $10 million would be needed to effectively screen correspondence for the presence of drugs, union officials said. They are requesting emergency funding for the processes.
Considerable progress has been made in recent years to increase the number of correctional officers who are working at Thomson. In 2019, the union reported having 167 vacancies.
It still is down 75 positions in custody jobs with another 10 vacancies in medical, Zumkehr said.
Several financial incentives have been approved by federal authorities to help recruit workers for Thomson, including 25% recruitment bonuses, and 25% retention bonuses are paid after a year on the job.
The prison and its union also were granted direct-hire authority. With the red tap cut, Zumkehr said, the time it takes to process workers has been cut from six months to two months.

Thomson Federal Prison has been cleared to hire its own correctional officers, allowing it to address its worker shortage.
Corrections positions start at $20.84 an hour, plus the bonuses. At the second and third years, the pay scale bumps to $25.12 an hour.
“We’re definitely better off than we were two years ago, so it’s definitely helping,” Zumkehr said Wednesday. “We’re doing everything possible to get the word out to all qualified candidates.
“The union did six job fairs just last month.”
Those interested may apply by searching for Thomson at USAJOBS.gov or by calling 815-259-1666.

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The union representing correctional officers at Thomson Federal Prison is seeking to have positions in search and shake-down teams restored to help prevent drugs from coming into the facility.
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