AP NEWS

South Dakota prison inmates make road signs, Braille books

October 21, 2019
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South Dakota roadway signs are created in the workshops in Pheasantland Industries on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. Inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary make thousands of everyday items each year, from traffic tickets to sensory toys for children with special needs. About 245 are employed by Pheasantland Industries making 25 to 40 cents an hour. (Abigail Dollins/The Argus Leader via AP)
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South Dakota roadway signs are created in the workshops in Pheasantland Industries on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. Inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary make thousands of everyday items each year, from traffic tickets to sensory toys for children with special needs. About 245 are employed by Pheasantland Industries making 25 to 40 cents an hour. (Abigail Dollins/The Argus Leader via AP)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary make thousands of everyday items each year, from traffic tickets to sensory toys for children with special needs. About 245 are employed by Pheasantland Industries making 25 to 40 cents an hour.

This year, the city also began hiring inmates to work for 25 cents an hour on a variety of projects, and both the city and Pheasantland say it’s a way for inmates to learn workplace skills, the Argus Leader reported.

“They’re trying to make positive changes in their lives, and I think they’re more valued as fellow citizens when they return to it,” said Stefany Bawek, director of Pheasantland.

Here’s a look at some products inmates placed in the Sioux Falls prison make within the Pheasantland’s seven workshops:

Braille textbooks: All of the braille in the South Dakota State Library comes from the workshop, as well as many textbooks used at the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and master copies of tactile textbooks redistributed by the American Printing House across the United States. The workshop produced 4,980 textbook pages last fiscal year, Bawek said.

Educational tools: The Dinosaur Dig sandbox as well as the Mount Rushmore wall graphic at the Washington Pavilion are made by inmates at the prison.

House cabinetry: Inmates built cabinetry for houses in the Governor’s Housing Program, which is a program allowing low-income residents to buy homes at a reduced cost.

School desks: Inmates built commissioned school desks for the Pierre School District.

Toy airplanes: The toys are given to law enforcement officials to give to children as a community outreach effort.

Machinery: Prisoners have a hand in building the cells and gates that surround them in the penitentiary. They also build metal bunk beds, tables for the chow hall, bars and hand rails, as well as flammable storage cabinets used by the Department of Transportation.

Printing: Inmates print a variety of items including school planners, traffic tickets, utility bills and emergency flyers issued by the city or county. Inmates are also skilled in book binding, laser engraving, sublimation printing, as well as regular printing.

“Almost everyone has encountered something from this shop if they live in Sioux Falls,” Bawek said.

Signs: Almost all signs used by the South Dakota Department of Transportation are made by inmates, Bawek said. Interstate exit signs, stop signs, “Welcome to South Dakota” signs and even hiking trail signs are all made inside the penitentiary walls.

Football helmet decals: The workshop creates decals for Sioux Falls area high school football helmets, such as O’Gorman, Roosevelt and Brandon Valley High Schools

Adhesive vinyls: Schools in the Sioux Falls School District employ prisoners for their vinyl graphics.

License Plates: Inmates have been making license plates since 1913, shortly after motorized vehicles hit the streets in the United States.

Furry Friends: Bawek partnered with administrators at Harvey Dunn Elementary School to have prisoners make more affordable sensory items for children. Inmates have made 476 weighted, scented items called Furry Friends for educators and the South Dakota Department of Education.

Mattresses, pillows and towels: The items can be used inside the prison, but they are also used at the Children’s Home Society and other nonprofits in the state.

Padded rooms: Inmates helped create padded rooms used at Lifescape.

What’s next?

Eventually, Bawek said she’d like to get more customers outside of the penitentiary and expand the shops. One idea she has is to make gym equipment for local high schools, such as weight benches and pull up stands.

She’s also played with the idea of a dog grooming shop and a chemical shop, where inmates can mix cleaning solutions and other chemical products used by the state.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com