TUCSON, AZ - With life behind bars now a certainty for Jared Lee Loughner, federal prison officials will have to determine just where to put him.
The 23-year-old college dropout who went on a deadly shooting rampage at an Arizona political gathering in January 2011 could end up back in a prison medical facility like the one in Springfield, Mo., where he's been treated for schizophrenia for more than a year.
Or he could end up in a prison such as the federal "Supermax" lockup in Florence, Colo., which houses some of the country's most notorious criminals, including Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski.
Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said Wednesday that placement will be determined after Loughner is sentenced for the January 2011 shooting that killed six and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The exact placement will depend on the nature of his mental illness and what's required to treat him.
All federal facilities can treat some level of mental illness, with more severe cases sent to special facilities. Mental health problems are rampant in the nation's jails and prisons, with more than half of all inmates exhibiting some illness, according to a 2006 Department of Justice report. In federal prisons, 45 percent had mental health issues.
Loughner looked relaxed and attentive in a packed Tucson courtroom Tuesday as he pleaded guilty to the shooting rampage as part of an agreement with prosecutors that will send him to prison for life and spare him a possible death sentence.
He even cracked a smile when a court-appointed psychologist talked about the special bond that he formed with a prison guard.
Loughner was not the man who rocked back and forth in court in May 2011 before blurting out, "Thank you for the free kill. She died in front of me. Your cheesiness." The changes in his behavior led a judge to declare Loughner competent.
Victims and federal prosecutors praised the agreement, saying it brought some measure of justice. They said it spares victims and their families from having to go through a potentially lengthy and traumatic trial and appeal.
As part of the agreement, Loughner will be ineligible for parole.
His sentencing is set for Nov. 15. In the meantime, U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns on Wednesday ordered Loughner returned to Springfield for continued treatment.