Prisoners are famous for making millions of license plates each year. But did you know there are lots of other products that are made inside prisons too?
1. Books for the Blind
There are 36 prison Braille-writing programs in the United States. Through the American Printing House for the Blind, offenders help write K-12 textbooks for blind students. In Missouri, the Center for Braille and Narration Production employs 102 convicts, many whom are certified through the Library of Congress. They transcribe anything, from novels to music.
In the 1990s, Victoria’s Secret and J. C. Penney hired subcontractor Third Generation, who, in turn, hired people from prisons to stitch their lingerie and leisure wear.
3. Park Benches and Picnic Tables
In Florida, PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises) trains about 4000 inmates, who produce and provide over 3000 products and services. PRIDE’s forestry service makes park furniture like picnic tables, park benches, and wooden trashcan holders. Sixty-nine percent of PRIDE graduates land jobs after jail.
4. Military Jackets and Battle Garb
Federal Prison Industries, better known as UNICOR, consists entirely of convicts working at 89 factories. Together, they help clothe the United States military, making jackets, uniforms, helmets, shoes, and even flak vests. For police officers, they craft body armor and holsters.
5. Human Silhouette Targets
Ironically, convicts at UNICOR also make human silhouette targets for law enforcer training. The shadowy targets help crime fighters in the FBI, Homeland Security, and U.S. Customs hone their aims.
6. Baseball Caps
Few things are as American as the baseball cap and free enterprise. Well, ball caps happen to be one of the few items UNICOR is allowed to sell to private customers and companies. (In an effort to keep private goods and prison-made goods from competing, UNICOR is generally forbidden from selling products to anyone outside the government.
Colorado Correction Industries oversees approximately 60 inmate work programs. Jailbirds at Fremont County Jail, for example, build fiberglass-sealed canoes. They use scraps from the prison’s furniture shop and sell the canoes for around $1500. Other Colorado programs help craft those ubiquitous college dormitory desks and bookshelves.
8. Artsy Knick Knacks
San Quentin State Prison in California is a scary place. It houses some of the most menacing criminals in the nation, and it’s home to the largest death row in the United States. But at least it has a gift shop. There, you can buy convict-made music boxes, drawings, and paintings. You can even get yourself a greeting card made by one of death row’s own.
9. Blue Jeans
The Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution is home to a 47,000 square foot facility: The Prison Blues Jeans Factory. It makes jeans, jackets, T-shirts, and hats.
10. Old IKEA Products
From the 1970s to 1980s, political prisoners in Cold War-struck East Germany made products for the furniture company IKEA. The prisoners were reportedly paid 40 East German marks per month, about 4 percent of the monthly salary of the average East German worker.
Get out of Jail Bonus: Coffee Beans
When some inmates leave the slammer, they roast coffee beans. I Have a Bean, owned by Second Chance Coffee Company, is a roasting plant in Illinois that helps ex-convicts restart their lives. The facility roasts six different kinds of coffee bean, from Costa Rica to Ethiopia.