A look inside Michigan’s license plate plant

Michigan

MADISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of inmates at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility near Adrian is responsible for every license plate in the state of Michigan.

“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, License Plate Factory plant manager Will Rondeau said. “We’re currently making about 10,000 a day.”

A tweet from News 8’s Lynsey Mukomel showing the unfortunate license plate number she received recently went viral. As a result, the Michigan Department of Corrections offered a tour of the facility to learn how plates are made and to meet the people who make them. 

“It starts with a coil of aluminum,” Rondeau explained. “Each coil’s about 2,000 pounds. We get about five plates per pound, so each coils about 10,000 license plates.”

The aluminum is then put through a press that straightens it and applies the different background options most commonly ordered through the Michigan Secretary of State. Those plate designs are stickers; whereas specialty and fundraising designs are silk-screened individually.

Each plate that isn’t a specialty order is made sequentially, one at a time, before going through an inking machine and heater.

michigan license plate manufacturing
Inside the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility near Adrian, where Michigan license plates are manufactured. (Jan. 27, 2020)

The plates are checked before being boxed up and mailed directly to SOS branches.

Specialty plates are mailed directly as well, but they are first cross-checked by an additional plant employee to verify accuracy before being sealed up and shipped out. 

“You guys were coming in here today and they were so happy knowing they get a chance to show off what they do here,” Rondeau showed News 8 Monday afternoon. “I think a lot of these guys are very smart, very skilled and after they work for us for a while, they gain a different type of attitude that they take back in the world, I think. Very few of them commit a crime and they seem to stay out so, it’s a really good program.”

Michigan State Industries, which oversees the license plate plant and other goods produced through MDOC, focuses on reducing inmate recidivism through its employment programs. In addition to supplying the state’s plates, MSI products can be ordered and sold to government agencies and 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations and tribal nations.

“We make picture frames, we make a lot of name tags, we make key chains. It’s all made here,” Rondeau said. “We try to take all of our scrap wood, our scrap license plates, everything and recycle everything around here. We don’t throw anything away.”

The leftover material has translated into several specialty products made by inmates, including guitars and birdhouses

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be working here myself because they’re the ones that make me look good or bad and the majority of them do such a great job. I’m actually very proud of them, I really am,” Rondeau added.

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