In 1922, the state began to operate its own factories but continued to sell the products on the open market. Over the years Michigan prisoners have mined coal, manufactured bricks and tile, cigars, tombstones and binder twine. In 1935, Congress passed the Hawes-Cooper Bill, prohibiting the shipment of prison-made goods in interstate commerce. In 1937, the Michigan Legislature adopted a bill which limited the sale of prison products to state institutions and Departments and other wholly tax-supported agencies. One industry long associated with prisons has been the production of license plates. The first plates, produced before 1910, were made of leather and used metal house numbers. It was in 1918 that the prison near Jackson first began producing automobile license plates along with street and road signs.
Correctional Industries Act:
In 1980, the state Correctional Industries Act was amended to allow MSI to sell its products to nonprofit organizations, to governmental institutions in other states and to the federal government. It allows Michigan agencies, offices and departments to buy goods from Industries if they are comparable in price and quality to those produced elsewhere and can be supplied in a reasonable time period.
The amendment let MSI set prices which provide for a margin in direct and indirect costs. It set up a five-year phase-in that gradually increased the amount of self-sufficiency. MSI became self-supporting in 1985. Self-sufficiency saves the state the cost of civilian wages, salaries and other costs which were paid out of the Department's budget in the past, and it allows Industries to expand its operations in order to employ more prisoners.