McConnell wants Senate to OK top prison job

FRANKFORT — U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell filed legislation Wednesday that would require the director of the Bureau of Prisons to be appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.

McConnell prepared the legislation after being contacted by several Kentucky companies seeking assistance in stopping Federal Prison Industries from taking jobs away from Kentuckians and giving them to prisoners.

The Kentucky companies complained that Federal Prison Industries was trying to take over contracts to make military clothing.

"Under my bill, the Bureau of Prisons and Federal Prison Industries can no longer thumb their noses at Congress and at our constituents whose jobs they are jeopardizing," McConnell said.

Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said her agency doesn't comment on pending legislation.

Campbellsville Apparel Co. President Chris Reynolds was the most recent Kentucky businessman to express fears that Federal Prison Industries, which pays inmates 23 cents to $1.15 an hour, might take over a military contract to make T-shirts for U.S. soldiers. His firm has held that contract for the past decade.

McConnell intervened on behalf of the Campbellsville plant as well as an Olive Hill company that makes Air Force windbreakers, calling on Federal Prison Industries to back off.

Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Edmond Ross said previously that Federal Prison Industries won't seek the Air Force windbreaker contract, citing a "potential adverse impact" on the small northeastern Kentucky city where they're made. Ross hasn't said whether the Federal Prison Industries will vie for the Campbellsville plant's contract.

In the case of the Olive Hill factory, Ashland Sales and Service, losing the Air Force contract would have forced closure and the elimination of 100 jobs. And in Campbellsville, 115 could be eliminated if prisoners begin making the military T-shirts.