As a child my parents would always tell me that if I didn't behave as a child, I'd end up having a life in prison making license plates. I only half believed them. I wondered if prisoners actually ever made the license plates we put on our cars. I found out the answer...

About 80% of license plates in the United States ARE made in about eight prisons. Some of those prisons actually make plates for more than one state. 3M manufactures the plastic sheeting that goes on the plate, the actual metal plates are stamped in prisons, and then the sheeting is applied.

How about here in the state of Michigan?

License plates were first made by prisoners in our state starting in 1910. They are still making Michigan's license plates in prison. The manufacturing building is at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility near Adrian. Fifty to sixty inmates make the license plates for all the vehicles in Michigan. They can make about 10,000 plates each working day. Working four days a week, they manufacture 2.5 million license plates each year.

Not just any prisoner can work manufacturing the plates. Inmates actually have to apply for positions in the factory. They are required to have either a GED or high school diploma and be "ticket free" in the prison for six months prior. Pay start at 35 cents per hour and get as high as 90 cents per hour. Even at those wages, the positions are highly sought after.

Just how are the license plates made?

Get that oven pre-heating!

It all starts with a one ton roll of aluminum. Each one of these coils can produce roughtly 10,000 plates. After a sticker to the aluminum, the plate is pressed and embossed.

It goes through an inking process to make the embossed letters and numbers stand out. After the are inked, the plates bake in a large oven for 45 minutes at 275 degrees.

They are then inspected, boxed, and sent to the Secretary of State.

In addition to the license plates we put on our vehicles, the prisoners also make special personalized license plates for schools.

Here is a video that walks you through the entire process of how a Michigan license plate is made...


CHECK IT OUT: Virtual Michigan Car Show

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