Featured Shop: Fort Dodge

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Iowa Prison Industries’ Fort Dodge Plant has been managing jean production operations for Iowa’s institutions since April 2015, but much more than jeans is cultivating there.

IPI’s job-training program at Fort Dodge provides incarcerated individuals the opportunity to learn a valuable skill set and grow as an individual, ultimately setting them up for a successful future. Men enter the program with little to no industry experience and leave with confidence in the work they do, while building relationships and professional habits along the way.

In the plant, the 31 employed incarcerated crew members are encouraged to get hands-on experience with every part of production. If there’s something they want to learn, there’s someone there to teach them. This exploratory environment is making the most of its opportunity to start a new line of production--tactile pants. Incarcerated individuals at the plant are working alongside IPI staff to establish and refine the process of producing this new product. They are still in the early phases of the transition, but they are excited to see the growth that will come out of this initiative.

“Fort Dodge is unique from other IPI shops because we were able to implement PIMS, 5S and Lean manufacturing from scratch,” said James Van Langen, Production Coordinator at the Fort Dodge Plant. Standardizing and improving processes is a daily theme at the shop, and it’s also impacted the personal lives of some of the inmates.

“I’m always learning new ways to do my work, always improving techniques and how to standardize them,” said Joe*, an inmate at Fort Dodge. “I’m always trying to apply continuous improvement to all areas of my life.”

“Having staff trust me has helped my self worth,” said Michael*, another inmate in Fort Dodge’s job-training program.

“I have seen inmates grow in maturity when they are given an opportunity for advancement,” said Van Langen. “They transform when given an opportunity for responsibility.”

In addition to principles of Lean manufacturing and continuous improvement, incarcerated individuals learn technical skills, like sewing machine repair and design software, and interpersonal skills, like leadership and collaboration. Van Langen said that he hopes men will walk away from the program with “experience in a manufacturing environment and can leave IPI with skills they will be able to use in a private sector job as well as their personal life.”

For more information on the Fort Dodge plant, please contact Plant Manager Justin Opfer at 515-725-5310 or justin.opfer@iowa.gov.

* Indicates name change for confidentiality of identity.

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