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Feds finding it difficult to staff Thomson prison

Friday, Jun 14, 2019

* From the warden of the Thomson federal prison

May 24, 2019

Dear Community Member,

The Thomson prison is not a new subject and to imply it has been a long journey is an understatement. State and federal governments have made large investments in this prison and I realize the local communities have matched these efforts.

The Administrative United States Penitentiary (AUSP) at Thomson currently employs nearly 400 staff, with a future full staffing complement of over 600. While a majority of our staff and their families are from the local area, a large number have transferred from other institutions and now reside in your communities. They are a diverse group with diverse needs and their presence has a compounding effect as salaries are redistributed throughout the local area, in housing, food, goods, services, and taxes.

As our staffing levels continue to grow, the demand for homes and other amenities also increase. Affordable and desirable housing along with good quality schools and day care centers determine where Bureau of Prisons’ staff reside. They need apartments, rental houses, starter homes, and larger homes for their expanding families. Unfortunately, for some, commuting a long distance is necessary, with some staff traveling as far north as Dubuque and south beyond the Quad Cities.

AUSP Thomson is now offering new Correctional Officers a sign-on bonus of 10% of their salary and after successfully completing one year of service; new staff will receive a one-time bonus of over $4,000. However, this may not be enough to entice staff to reside in the local community. Therefore, I humbly request your assistance in advocating for more housing development. Please do what you can to create conversations among community leadership and residential developers. I fear that without noticeable development, the lack of housing may become a determining factor against relocating to this area.

Thomson is a northwestern Illinois tiny town of 590 people. It had been the site of a state prison, but the state decided it didn’t need the facility and it was eventually unloaded on the feds.

* Chase Cavanaugh takes a look at the situation

“It’s hard to believe we have no retail in Thomson and we have limited housing,” [Thomson Village President Vicky Trager] said. “The housing that we do have is mostly older, small, single family homes. We have some income-based multi-unit apartment buildings.”

Michelle Horst is a Human Resource Specialist for the Bureau of Prisons. She says this lack of amenities means employees commute an average of 30 miles to work.

She says most employees reside in the Illinois cities of Thomson, Savanna, Mount Carroll, Fulton, Morrision and the Sterling/Rock Falls area, as well as Clinton, Iowa. “However, we do have some employees that commute as far as 50-70 miles or more, including a significant number in the Quad Cities area,” she said. […]

Since the release of the warden’s letter, [prison spokesperson Nicole McDowell] says several communities have responded with commitments to new development.

“Outside of Thomson, Mt Carroll let us know that they’re doing a renovation that’s going to provide lots and lots of housing, and Clinton let us know that they are about to do another housing area like the ‘landing’ that they have that will also house a lot of staff,” she said. […]

For now, the Bureau of Prisons has designated Thomson a “hard to fill” institution, allowing staff to offer a variety of hiring and pension incentives. As for Thomson itself, Trager hopes the warden’s recent letter can get the word out about new job hires and attract future developers.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Give Me A Break - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:11 pm:

    Well I find this hard to believe. You mean to tell me they are having trouble getting people to move to an area with limited housing, limiting shopping and things to do.

    People should be beating the doors down to work in this area away from bad ole Chicago and the mean Dems and tax spending libs.

    I bet you can own a gun, fly your rebel flag and gripe about big gvt. while watching the corn grow for fun. Sounds like a GOP paradise to me.

  2. - Quibbler - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:21 pm:

    Good. If only they had as much trouble staffing the rest.

  3. - Dan Vock - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:43 pm:

    Rural housing shortages are becoming a bigger problem throughout the country. Iowa’s governor has been highlighting the issue for the last year or so. Interestingly, Iowa is hoping its state prison system will help alleviate the problem.

  4. - Al - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 2:03 pm:

    They won’t hire folks who pass around a joint on a Saturday night.

  5. - 62656 - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 2:15 pm:

    There have been so many employers who’ve cried wolf over the years about being unable to find staff that I wonder how many applicants they get & what’s wrong with the ones they don’t offer a job. There may be a genuine shortage of available applicants, but there could also be rejecting people who would be fine at the job.

  6. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 3:14 pm:

    Would someone send this to the IPI the next time they talk about Illinois population loss and the loss is actually outside Greater Chicagoland?

  7. - Erie Illinois - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 4:10 pm:

    Erie Illinois is 30 minutes from the prison, has an excellent school district and expanding athletic facilities and opportunities for students. We are less than 30 minutes from shopping in Davenport and Moline. It is a small town but has affordable country living, a grocery store and we would love to have you come check us out.

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