Prisoners in the US make license plates and other items

Inmates have made license plates as part of prison labor programs for more than 100 years and continue to do so in many US states.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that two out of every three people incarcerated in state and federal prisons are also workers in a June 2022 report.

Deb recently reached out to VERIFY with a question about incarcerated workers. She asked, “Do prisoners still make license plates?”

THE QUESTION

Are imprisoned workers still making license plates?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, in many states, incarcerated workers still make license plates.

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WHAT WE FOUND

License plates are “one of the most basic products” that incarcerated workers make, said Jennifer Turner, an ACLU human rights researcher.

VERIFY turned to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators for data on how many license plates in the US are made by incarcerated workers and in which states. Though the administration couldn’t provide conclusive data, a spokesman said about half of the states are working with their corrections departments to create license plates.

According to Turner, however, that number is likely higher. She said jailed workers in about 37 states make all of their state’s license plates.

Turner says jailed workers have been making license plates for decades.

“The first prison labor programs to make license plates began around 1920 and intensified in many other states during the Great Depression as states turned to prisons to make license plates,” she said.

Many state prison industry and correctional facility programs have information online about incarcerated license plate workers.

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One of those programs started in Michigan in 1918when incarcerated workers at the state penitentiary near the town of Jackson began making license plates, street signs, and traffic signs.

Inmates at Folsom, California State Penitentiary have been making license plates for the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) since 1947. according to the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA). The agency says more than 100 inmates make license plates at its Folsom Prison factory every day.

In some states, like California, incarcerated workers produce more than 2 million license plates a year, Turner said.

Prison industry and correctional facility programs in nearly a dozen other states – Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Idaho, Nebraska, North Carolina, Minnesota, Iowa, Virginia, South Carolina and new York – also have information online about imprisoned workers who make license plates.

But inmates have many other jobs as well. Some of the other goods they make include furniture, janitorial supplies, dental equipment, eyewear, and signs to name a few. Detained workers also provide services, such as staffing DMV call centers or repairing state-owned vehicles, Turner said.

The ACLU has To ponder on the treatment of imprisoned workers, including low wages and potentially unsafe working conditions.

Turner said many jailed workers, including those making license plates, are being paid “pennies an hour” and seeing “only a fraction of those wages.”

Research by the ACLU has found that up to 80% of incarcerated workers’ wages are deducted to pay court-ordered fines and fees, along with the cost of incarceration fees charged by prisons, according to Turner.

“And on top of that, they are forced to pay for basic necessities such as commission costs for decent food, warm clothing, medical co-payments, medicines and even the costs of contact with their loved ones,” she said.

Nevertheless, correctional facilities generally promote work programs because they offer work experience that can benefit inmates after their release from prison.

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https://www.kvue.com/article/news/verify/national-verify/incarcerated-workers-prisoners-make-license-plates-other-items/536-64abeb45-66e1-4ee9-839f-d51607a0497c Prisoners in the US make license plates and other items

Laura Coffey

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