Washington — Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback said Friday he believes Leavenworth, Kan., is a strong contender to land a new federal prison that officials want to build in the Midwest.
Brownback, a Republican, said officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons have expressed "an interest" in locating a maximum security facility at Leavenworth, though he stressed that no official decision has been made.
While there is no specific timetable for building the new prison, Brownback said a decision could be announced as early as next year if Congress designates money for the project.
"We're going to start working on the appropriations process next year" to get funding for the new prison, Brownback said.
Agency officials say they are still considering several sites.
"Leavenworth would certainly be considered if and when the project is pursued," said Bureau of Prisons spokesman Michael Truman. "There is no specific timetable at this time."
The U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth once housed some of the country's most notorious criminals as a maximum security prison. But it was converted to a medium security prison in 2005 and currently houses 1,900 medium- and minimum-security inmates.
Leavenworth officials have welcomed the idea of a new prison and the positive economic impact it would have for the surrounding community. A new prison would have about 1,400 beds and be staffed with about 300 employees.
Bureau of Prisons director Harley Lappin toured Leavenworth with Brownback in late September and met with Brownback's staff recently to discuss potential for the site in Kansas.
Brownback promotes Leavenworth as a "prison friendly community" where the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department already own land next to Fort Leavenworth that could accommodate a new prison. The cost savings of locating several facilities in one location is a key reason Leavenworth should have an edge in the competition, Brownback said.