Prisons won't take Ky. company's military contract

FRANKFORT — Workers at a Campbellsville factory that makes T-shirts for U.S. soldiers won't have to fear losing their jobs to prisoners.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday he has received notification that Federal Prison Industries won't bid on the military contract now held by Campbellsville Apparel Co.

"This is another great victory for Kentucky workers," McConnell said in a statement. "Federal Prison Industries did the right thing in backing away from their plan to take away jobs from hard-working Kentucky taxpayers and giving them to convicts."

Campbellsville Apparel president Chris Reynolds was the most recent Kentucky businessman to express fears that Federal Prison Industries might take over the military contract that his firm has held for the past decade.

Reynolds said it's difficult for private companies to compete for contracts with the Federal Prison Industries, which pays inmates from 23 cents to $1.15 an hour.

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

Federal Prison Industries previously announced it wouldn't bid for the Air Force windbreaker contract, citing a "potential adverse impact" on the small northeastern Kentucky city where they're made. That same rationale would hold true for Campbellsville. Both communities have been dealing with high unemployment.

Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke confirmed Monday that Federal Prison Industries wouldn't seek the T-shirt contract.

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

In response to those situations, McConnell filed legislation last week that would require the director of the Bureau of Prisons to be appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.

McConnell said that would bring accountability to the Bureau of Prisons and Federal Prison Industries, allowing neither to "thumb their noses at Congress and at our constituents whose jobs they are jeopardizing."