New Illinois law will punish prisoners for sexually attacking, exposing themselves to staff members

It’s something the staff union at USP Thomson has long been calling for. Now, the union hopes this will lead to a similar federal law to protect law enforcement.

THOMSON, Ill. — One of the newest laws in Illinois is meant to protect prison staff members from sexual attacks. 

Public Act 103-0283 amends the state’s criminal code by creating punishments for prisoners who partake in sexual and lewd exposures. A first offense will now be classified as a Class A misdemeanor. Any continued offenses will then be upped to a Class 4 felony. 

Any prisoner found in violation of the law will also be eligible for an evaluation for a mental health court program, pursuant to the Mental Health Court Treatment Act. 

This new law will expire on January 1, 2028. It will also not apply to juvenile centers. 

Any inmate who is found in violation of the law but is under the age of 18, suffering from a behavioral health issue at the time of the attack causing the person to act in such a manner, or not in the actual view of another person will not be held to the punishment. 

Before this law, there were no punishments from the courts for prisoners who partook in such sexual attacks. 

The bipartisan effort was signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker on July 28. Locally, Republican Representative Tony McCombie was one of the bill’s co-sponsors. 

In a statement, Rep. McCombie said: 

“This bill has the clear support of lawmakers and is an effort to help make employees working in the department of corrections, especially female employees, feel safe, respected, and able to do their jobs.”

Scot Ward, with the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, also shared his support for the bill in a statement, saying: 

“This HB 1399 that was just signed into law by the Governor, has shown our Corrections side of Law Enforcement, a step toward respecting our Correctional Officers and our profession. It is also an effort toward assisting us in addressing safety and accountability concerns we face each day.”

The law is an effort the staff union at USP Thomson has been working toward for years. 

“We were happy cause that’s something that we’ve been asking for, for a long time,” said Jon Zumkehr, Local 4070 President. 

According to the union, there were nearly 1,000 sexual attacks on staff at USP Thomson in 2020 alone. News 8 has also reported on hundreds more alleged attacks throughout 2022 as well, breaking it down month by month. 

Now, the union says it’s hoping for Illinois’ example to kickstart a larger, national conversation. 

Although USP Thomson is in Illinois, it’s federally owned and operated, making the law a bit of a gray area for the facility. All of the attacks would have to be prosecuted through attorneys in Chicago, the union says. 

Consequently, the staff are still pushing for a similar, federal law to what Illinois just passed. 

“There’s not legislation right now that protects our staff from inmates exposing them and targeting female staff inside a prison,” Zumkehr said. “This bill helps us, but we also need federal legislation to finish this.” 

The union is in contact with legislators in both Iowa and Illinois, including Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). 

“There’s bipartisan support,” Zumkehr said. “It’s common sense to pass a law to make it a crime on federal property to target and to do these deviant, lewd acts to staff members.”

USP Thomson is currently housing 1,334 low-security inmates after a mission change earlier this spring, which saw its largely high-security prisoner population bused out and dispersed in other prisons.  

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