Plates and Prisoners

In 1933, the Texas Legislature passed a law authorizing the Texas Prison System in Huntsville, now the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), to manufacture the state’s license plates. Today, offenders at the Wynne Correctional Unit in Huntsville make the plates.

Prior to 2009, the state used a stamping process to produce license plates. Raw plates were placed in a press in order to stamp the alphanumeric and date into the plate. The stamped plate process required 484 gallons of paint thinner and 396 gallons of petroleum-based ink each year, plus huge baking ovens to dry the ink. The “Panoramic Texas” license plate, issued in 2000, featuring images of a cowboy, oil wells, and the Space Shuttle was the last plate that was stamped with raised letters and numbers.

In 2009, the state’s first digital general-issue license plate was issued. The all-digital process eliminated the need for toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process and provides an opportunity for the inmates manufacturing the plates to learn valuable contemporary skills. Mini-assembly lines, four of them, staffed by Wynne Unit inmates, each spit out 35 to 40 Texas license plates every minute. The Huntsville prison facility manufactures more than 40,000 Texas license plates each weekday, using more than 2 million pounds of aluminum every year.