The federal Bureau of Prisons is taking the unusual step of transferring several hundred volatile and violent inmates due to “significant concerns” about a northwest Illinois prison.

Thomson prison is reportedly transferring 350 inmates from its “special management unit” to other facilities. That represents more than half of its entire inmate population. 

“The Bureau of Prisons recently identified significant concerns with respect to institutional culture and compliance,” said a prisons spokesperson. “We believe these issues are having a detrimental impact on facility operations and the BOP has determined that there is a need for immediate corrective measures.”

Victor Gutierrez

Bureau of Prisons officials did not detail the concerns. However, an inmate from Joliet unexpectedly died earlier this month. Victor Gutierrez, 32, was nearing the end of a federal sentence for selling guns when he was found dead on Feb. 2. 

“His last words to me were: ‘Mom, I can’t wait to see you and I promise you I’m going to do good out there…I promise you,'” his mother, Theresa Raymond, told WGN Investigates.

Prison officials have refused to share the circumstances of Gutierrez’s death or the results of an autopsy with his relatives or the media. 

“Was he bloody? Was he beat? What happened?” Gutierrez’s mother said she asked a prison staff member. “She said, ‘I can’t give you any of that information.'”

The Marshall Project found Thomson is one of the deadliest federal prisons in the nation, with five suspected homicides and two suspected suicides since 2019. Corrections officers have also reported being attacked by inmates.

Elected officials insist Thomson’s time as a prison isn’t finished.

“What we’re seeing today is moving away from those violent offenders to a place where our prison system workers are better-taken care of,” said Rep. Eric Sorenson (D-Rockford). 

Thomson was originally built by the Illinois Department of Corrections but state inmates never moved in. The federal Bureau of Prisons purchased the facility in 2012. An initial plan to transfer inmates from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba never materialized. At last count, the facility housed 512 male offenders.

Illinois’ two U.S. senators say they’ve been reassured the prison will not close.

“We were assured by the Attorney General that these changes are temporary and that Thomson will continue to play an important role in the Bureau of Prisons system,” read a joint statement from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois).

Federal officials would not provide a timeline for inmate transfers. However, reporters spotted several busloads of inmates being driven away from the facility on Wednesday. 

Victor Gutierrez’s family says recognition of trouble at Thomson is too little, too late for them. “Why didn’t they do this before?” Theresa Raymond asked. “I’m reading about this poor kid who died three months ago. My son told me about him. They should have done something!”