The rise and fall of Michigan’s free prison labor

Jul 21, 2016

Current day Michigan State Industries makes products like American flags, signs, and license plates.
Credit Michigan Secretary of State

"Jackson Prison Industries" is the title of a new article by Jackson writer and historian Brad Flory. We talk with Flory about the history of free prison labor in our state.


Wagons, farm tools, granite monuments, bricks and tile. These were all mass-produced products made by Michigan prisoners of the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s often been said that prison is “big business”.

In the early days of Michigan state prisons, nearly full employment was reported for the incarcerated. Prisoners labored for numerous private companies both inside and outside Jackson’s prison walls and elsewhere.

Brad Flory is a freelance writer who worked for 30 years as a reporter and columnist for the Jackson Citizen Patriot. His recent Michigan History Magazine article is entitled "Jackson Prison Industries: Competition Breeds Controversy."

Current State's Peter Whorf speaks with Brad Flory about how southern Michigan’s state prison was originally not planned for Jackson.