The United States Penitentiary (USP), Leavenworth, was the largest maximum security federal prison in the United States from 1903 until 2005. It became a medium security prison in 2005. It is located in Leavenworth, Kansas. It is an all-male, medium-security facility committed to carrying out the judgments of the Federal Courts. Leavenworth is one of three first generation United States Penitentiaries built in the early 1900s. The other two were Atlanta and McNeil Island(although McNeil dates to the 1870s the major expansion did not occur until the early 1900s). Prior to its construction, federal prisoners were held at state prisons. In 1895 Congress authorized the construction of the federal prison system.
The prison follows a format popularized at the Auburn Correctional Facility in New York. The cell blocks are in a large rectangular building. The rectangular building was focused on indoor group labor with a staff continually patrolling. Leavenworth has around 1,800 prisoners in the main building and around 407 in the adjoining minimum security camp. The staff runs about 500 officers and employees. The Auburn system was a marked difference from the earlier Pennsylvania plan popularized at Eastern State Penitentiary in which cell blocks radiated out from a central building (and was the original design for the nearby Disciplinary Barracks before it was torn down and replaced by a totally new prison). Leavenworth's prison cells are back to back in the middle of the structure facing the walls. The prison's walls are 40 feet high, 40 feet below the surface and 3,030 feet long and enclose on 22.8 acres.
Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary has held some notorious figures during its storied history. Former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast, disgraced quarterback Michael Vick and Robert Stroud, later known as the “Bird Man of Alcatraz.” Forty years ago, one of the most famous men on the planet entered Leavenworth...
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