"You're gonna wind up making license plates," my dad would tell me when I misbehaved as a kid, a reference to the fact that prisoners serving hard time are charged with making license plates in state prisons.

But was that actually a fact? Do Michigan inmates really make license plates while they're incarcerated?

Michigan Led the Way

It turns out that prisoners in Michigan were the first to make vehicle license plates (as well as metal road signs), beginning in 1918 at a prison near Lansing. From there, the program took off, and other states instituted similar programs during the Great Depression. (Before that, just prior to 1910, Michigan prisoners were charged with making license plates that were made out of leather.)

Today, license plates are manufactured in about a dozen states in addition to Michigan.

Do Michigan Prisoners Still Make License Plates?


Today, Michigan prisoners make about 2.5 million license plates per year at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility near Adrian. Adrian is located about 35 miles south of Ann Arbor.

Will Rondeau is the plant manager for Michigan State Industries (MSI) the license plate factory operated within the correctional facility. He told WOOD-TV in 2020 that some people don't believe license plates are made by prisoners.

"When they say all the plates are made by inmates in the state of Michigan, I think most people think that’s a fallacy even though it’s true," he said. "We’re currently making about 10,000 a day."

MSI employees also manufacture fundraising plates for schools and businesses, name plates, cutting boards, novelty bird houses, and other items.

In the video below, WOOD-TV takes a look inside the license plate factory inside the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility.


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