Indiana’s PEN Products Provides World Class Services and Grows Offender Employment

by Becky Deeb, New Enterprise Development Manager, PEN Products/Indiana Department of Correction

With Indiana’s growing offender population the need for offender work assignments to reduce idleness and improve the work skills of released offenders also grew. And, just as this need for offender jobs increased, the state budget decreased. As a result, state agencies had fewer dollars to spend with PEN Products resulting in less purchasing of traditional manufactured products such as license plates, office furniture, highway road signs, and mattresses.

In order for PEN Products to fulfill its mission – to employ offenders in a self-sufficient manner – it turned to private partnerships to grow offender employment. Besides partnering with private businesses in service operations, PEN Products also expanded service offerings to state agencies.

Private Partner Service Operations
Twelve years ago PEN Products developed its first private partnership with a local pallet recycler, who had three other operations in the local area. At the time, the company was experiencing high labor turnover and was constantly hiring and training new employees. The pallet recycler’s vehicles would drive past Indiana Department of Correction facilities when delivering parts and product and this must have spurred the idea of giving inmates a chance to be involved in the operation. Over the past twelve years, this partnership has grown from a simple inquiry to an operation with over 100 offenders working daily repairing and refurbishing broken pallets.

PEN Products Moving Crew

PEN Products Moving Crew moving Civil War troop flags
for the Indiana War Memorial

In the same time period, service partnerships have been developed with multiple businesses:
• Packaging
• Refurbishing pumps
• Remanufacturing brake drums
• Recycling plastics
• Repacking textiles
• Recapping tires
• Defacing retail store returns
• Repairing pallets at three different pallet locations.

PEN Products also learned over the years what to look for in a partnership, what types of business to pursue and how to negotiate a fair contract that is equitable to all parties.

Three separate pallet operations repair pallets for private companies and have nearly 200 offender workers

Three separate pallet operations repair pallets for private companies and have nearly 200 offender workers

Focusing on service industries required PEN Products to confer with legal counsel on determining which activities were services versus activities which transform a product (meaning that the operation would need to be certified under the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). PEN Products confers with legal counsel regarding each service activity before proceeding with the private partner.

PEN Products plans to continue targeting specific businesses to provide services for, as
this should continue to help increase the number of offender jobs at PEN Products.

Services to State Agencies
Providing viable services to state agencies is also an area of growth for PEN Products. While state agencies are still purchasing consumables like cleaning products and janitorial items, purchases of chairs, office furniture and detention furniture have been trending down. To maintain offender jobs and provide needed services to state agencies, PEN Products has added laundry services for state hospitals and Veterans’ Homes, moving services, office panel cleaning and set up, road crews for the Department of Transportation, refurbishing of furniture, and transportation of state assets via commissary backhauls.

Director Mike Herron states, “Over the years, we have learned to provide service partners with what they need – a viable, stable workforce and physical plant space at a fair price. We have learned, at times the hard way, to understand our costs. All in all, growing offender jobs in service industries has helped PEN Products achieve its mission, providing offenders with marketable skills and preparing them for a successful reentry into the community and the workforce.”

Today, services account for over 37% of the 1,911 offender jobs at PEN Products. The growth of offender jobs in service operations has grown from 0 in 1998 to 714 jobs in 2012. PEN Products feels that providing world class service to private sector partners and state agencies alike, will only propel the future growth of offender jobs!

PEN Products Brake Joint Venture with over 200 offender workers

PEN Products Brake Joint Venture with over 200 offender workers