Iowa prison inmates are doing more than creating license plates these days. Dan Clark, director of Iowa Prison Industries (IPI), says inmates are now producing “green” cleaning chemicals, converting text books into Braille for the blind, and making clothes – including the familiar orange prison jumpsuits.

“We also make a lot of school furniture for different school districts and community colleges,” Clark said. “We make dormitory furniture for all the Regents universities and a number of private colleges and community colleges in Iowa.” In Rockwell City, inmates even weld and assemble prison cells.

IPI does not receive an appropriation from the state. Clark says they’re able to sell their products and cover expenses. “In fact, last year we returned to the state or the prisons – more than a million dollars from our various activities,” Clark said. “We don’t use any taxpayer money and actually return some taxpayer refunds to the state.”

Some IPI products are donated to charities. Earlier this month, Iowa inmates built and installed a custom business center for the Ronald McDonald House in Iowa City.

IPI employs roughly 700 inmates at eight Iowa’s prisons – with the largest operation in Anamosa. Clark says prisoners who work for IPI are shown to be more successful upon release.

“A prisoner who’s released and hasn’t held down a job and doesn’t have good work habits – they’re really going to struggle to reenter society,” Clark said. “We work with our offenders to have a resume, sit through performance reviews and work in a team environment. So, when they get out (of prison) they can speak to employers about what they have done. That makes a huge difference when they do get out.”