IPI’s Anamosa Plant has been producing Iowa’s license plates since 1926.
Iowa Prison Industries’ first License Plate Shop was established in 1925, and issued its first plates in 1926. This shop has undergone one of the most intense transformations of all the IPI shops. The current License Plate division runs efficiently in its small footprint, with compact machines and about 12 incarcerated individuals and two IPI staff maximizing the shop’s productivity.
The individuals in job-training programs here know how to keep the computers and machines running, which is what it takes to meet the high demand for new Iowa license plates. “I like finding ways to do the job more efficiently,” said Jeff*, an incarcerated individual working in the shop, “and being able to take part in keeping the process running smoothly.”
The shop produces over 1.2 million license plates each year for the Iowa Department of Transportation, bringing in annual sales of $1 million to $2 million. Producing quality products in a short amount of time can put the individuals’ technical skills and work ethic to the test, but they say it’s created a team-oriented environment.
“IPI staff has taught me the value of leadership and interacting with people,” said Brady*, an incarcerated individual working in the License Plate shop. “Dealing with different types of personalities makes it a constant learning experience, but the constant testing of who I wish to become never ends, and that’s what I love about my job. I think my greatest accomplishment is the everyday improvements that I see in my own behaviors: how I’ve adapted from a selfish personality to a total team player.”
Another incarcerated individual described working in the shop as “an opportunity to exercise patience and the ability to multi-task and a great distraction from prison life. I like having the ability to use my mind and force the boundaries of what I can do to expand.” Personal development is of most importance to IPI staff and the incarcerated individuals. “Being able to handle several pressures at once without becoming overwhelmed is something I’m proud of since beginning the apprenticeship,” the individual said.
“Just because you’re incarcerated,” Brady* said, “it doesn’t define who you are.”