Prison Employment

Jackson Hobbycraft Store Credit: J. Scott Park Courtesy of:

Jackson Hobby Craft Store Credit: J. Scott Park Courtesy of:

A group of detainees posing in front of a group of Christmas toys as a part of their labor program. Credit: J. Scott Park Courtesy of:

A man stands in front of a leather belt display at the Jackson Hobby Craft Store. Credit: J. Scott Park Courtesy of:

The Jackson Prison Hobby Craft Store. Credit: J. Scott Park Courtesy of:

From the beginning, powerful politicians in Michigan wanted to be able to use the prison system to make money. This money was to be used to pay for the prisons but also line the pockets of the politicians. This led to many practices and industries that employed cheap prison labor in order to turn a profit. Those running the prison systems around the country believed that idleness in the prisons would be detrimental to the security of the prison and detrimental to the prisoners themselves. Prison labor was a way to solve this issue while also producing a profit.

A 1907 constitutional amendment allowed industries in Michigan to use prison facilities as factories as long as they provided machinery and the raw materials the industries could rent out the prison labor force and pay substantially lower wages than in the private sector. Warden Harry L. Hubert, who served as warden of the prison in the 1920s, believed in prison labor and continually throughout his years as warden looked for any possible industries to introduce to prison. He wrote Governor Groesbeck, "I think we can put Michigan Prison Industries on the map so that when you leave the office the state will look up to you as doing something that no other governor ever did." During Hubert's time as Warden most inmates worked on the roads and helped build the new prison.

One of the first major jobs for people imprisoned at Jackson was institutional construction, due to the exploding automotive industry housed in Detroit that made roads and infrastructure an upmost priority. By 1924, Michigan had completed more miles of road than any other state and was leading the country in the building of roads at a much lower cost because of its prison labor force.

Hobby craft was another huge industry for Jackson Prison. The hobby craft goods were originally sold in the library but became so popular that a Hobby Craft sales store opened to meet the demand. Products included earrings, paintings, chests, chairs, purses, wallets, belts, and other goods. Incarcerated men were able to spend one hundred dollars on supplies a month, set their own prices, and keep 90% of their earnings with the remaining percentage going to the prison. In 1971, more than sixty thousand customers purchased goods from the hobby craft store. This even resulted in men who were imprisoned being able to secure contracts with outside vendors. Some of the program's participants also volunteered their time to make hundreds of toys for needy and less fortunate kids in the Jackson community.

“Peek Through Time: Prison’s Hobbycraft Sales Shop Turned Idle Inmates into Skilled Craftsmen | MLive.Com,” accessed November 6, 2018,