License plate manufacturing question

My knowledge of license plate manufacturing is limited to the movies. Specifically, prison movies. They always seem to have a license plate factory, and even today I have heard that some states still manufacture their license plates through the prison systems.

Is this still the case with all states, or do some states farm this work out to private contractors?

My assumption is that states may contract out the production of the plate blanks, but they still control the stamping of those blanks.

If anyone knows the answer to this (even if it is only for your own specific state),
can you list your state and tell us if it’s a private enterprise or a prison function?


Can’t answer the OP, but I will share one of my favorite jokes:

Can you imagine how miserable it must be to be a prisoner in New Hampsire, making license plates all day that say, “Live free or die”?

In Washington state. license plates are made at the plate stamping facility located at the prison in Walla Walla.

CA - Folsom prison, just like in the Johnny Cash song:

Surely, somebody has compiled a list of these. Nevada, too.

I was hoping for a list, but have come up empty so far.

However, I did read an article about Nevada. A bill was introduced in the state legislature to privatize license plate production, but it either didn’t pass or looks like it won’t pass (sorry, can’t remember). Even though the state would save a nice chunk of money, there were other arguments to keep the prisoners doing it. I didn’t read the whole article (obviously) but if I find it again on my google travels, I’ll post a link.

So far, California, Washington and Nevada are still in the correctional institutions.

Well David Copperfield used to have someone backstage stamp out one during each show.


My brother has been a collector for years, and he could come up with only two.
‘Delaware uses a Canadian company for the entire plate production’.
‘The District of Columbia (Washington, DC) are made in Lorton, Va. prison’.

In the state of Rheinland–Palatinate, license plates are manufactured by private companies. Typically these are one-man operations set up in a shack outside the local DMV.

For Texas, they’re manufactured in Huntsville prison.

The usual rationale for prisoners making license plates is that if they made ordinary goods, they’d be competing with other manufacturers. Since prisoners are typically paid subminimum wages, the other manufacturers will complain about unfair competition. So they make things that has a market only with state agencies. License plates fall into this category, and also road signs.

Be that as it may, prisoners at the Eastern Oregon Corrections Institution make clothing (jeans) sold commercially under the trademark Prison Blues. (And yes, I believe there’ve been complaints from other jeans manufacturers.) However, prisoners in Oregon don’t make license plates and never have.

Of course, even if a prison industry restricts itself to manufacturing goods used by the government, opponents can still point out that they would otherwise have to contract for them to be made by a regular manufacturer, so it’s still a loss of business, hence jobs.

“subminimum wages” is an understatement in most cases. “token” would be more like it. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. They’re in prison, after all - their room and board is paid for, and they don’t theoretically need money for anything. They might as well do something useful, and making license plates or road signs hardly counts as “cruel and unusual punishment”. We had a previous thread on prison industries: