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Mississippi Prison Industries offering inmates opportunities

With a mission of providing realistic work experiences to sentenced, adult offenders, Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation chairman John Miller is quick to point out that it is a job generator, not job displacer. “We support the private sector, so we are not trying to take jobs away from anyone. As a matter of fact, we are working to bring manufacturing jobs from Mexico and China back to Mississippi.”

Founded in 1990, Mississippi Prison Industries is one of only two prison industries in the United States. The other is located in California. Miller explained that the workforce at Mississippi Prison Industries is made up of 600 inmates residing within Mississippi state correctional institutions. “By providing employment skills to support self-sufficiency upon release, we are reducing recidivism and reducing the overall costs of government operations. We don’t get funding or appropriations by any government agency. We operate and mirror the free world, which means we pay our own way. We purchase our own buildings, equipment and cover our own payroll.”

Mississippi Prison Industries operates textile shops, metal shops, carpentry shop, cement shop, furniture shop, print shop and shop to do embroidery work. “In a company today, growth is a double edge sword. It poses challenges, and one of those challenges is having a workforce to keep up with that growth. That’s one area where we come in,” said Miller. “We can help out many types of manufacturing companies because we have people who are trained in many areas. We can be a source for companies looking for reliable staffing.”

Among the products produced by the corporation are decorative items for the yard, including bottle trees, wind chimes, concrete bird baths, benches and planters, and holiday decorations. It also produces a full line of grills, picnic tables and trash cans. Items for detention, including bunk beds, linens and garments, are manufactured as well. And there’s much more, including items as large as horse stalls and accessories.

Miller said that prior to teaching the skills necessary to work in the manufacturing facilities, inmates are given extensive training in work ethics. “If we teach the ethics of business, we can follow by teaching the vocation, and the result is a workforce that understands what goes into making a good employee. Working on the inside helps these inmates succeed on the outside.”

The workforce for Mississippi Prison Industries comes from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl and the South Mississippi Correctional Institute in Leakesville. However, Miller explained that Mississippi Prison Industries is a corporation and is not part of the Department of Corrections. “I respond to a board appointed by the governor, which includes representatives from banking, manufacturing, marketing, labor and education. We are a member of the Mississippi Manufacturing Association as well as the National Manufacturing Association.”

In 2005, the Transition Placement Training Center opened. “We take inmates that are eligible for release, but can’t be released because they don’t have a fixed address,” Miller explained. “While there, they undergo training for a variety of job skills, as well as work on their GED. We have a 95% success rate in placing people from the Transition Center.”

Miller said funding for the transition center comes from the Workforce Investment Network of Mississippi. “The funding we get from them pays our operating costs, but we still bought the building on our own.”

Miller said that growth of the corporation has been steady at approximately 10% a year. “We work up to 650 inmates. We can help companies that need to ramp up production, because we have a trained workforce, ready to go.”

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