Inmates enter retail industry with unique, handmade goods

Local News

Looking for handmade gifts this holiday season? Perhaps something one-of-a-kind, using locally sourced wood?

One retailer offers everything from clocks and pens to lunch bags and jewelry boxes — even a full dining set that started as a tree on Mauna Loa.

You may be surprised to learn they were all made by inmates.

“The program is set up to give offenders opportunities to earn job skills and a work ethic so they can be successful when they go home,” said Chris Lansford, Hawaii Correctional Industries.

In the past, Hawaii Correctional Industries was only allowed to sell to state agencies and non-profit organizations, but thanks to a new law, HCI can now sell these items directly to the general public.

You can pick up a lau lau bag for $8. They come with a small container inside.

As for the dining set, it was made by inmates at Kulani Correctional Facility on Hawaii Island, and you can buy it for $650.

“It was a Norfolk pine tree, a non-native tree, and we did everything from milling the wood to drying it to making it into a piece of furniture,” Lansford explained.

Placemats, made by female inmates, are going for five dollars a piece.

There are bags “actually made from correctional officer uniforms, so this light blue was the shirt material and this dark blue was the pants material,” Lansford said.

Inmates even make gavels — now a top-selling item.

“We sell hundreds of those,” Lansford said with a laugh. “Who knew.”

Even though HCI is a division of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, it actually costs taxpayers zero dollars, because it’s a self-sustaining program.

“The money that we get from selling items goes back into the program to pay for raw materials and to pay for wages and staff,” Lansford explained.

In order to participate, inmates must apply and have to be discipline-free for at least six months. The more items HCI sells, the more inmates it can hire.

“It also gives them an opportunity to earn money and they can pay down any fines they have, pay back their victims and save money for release,” Lansford said.

HCI will have holiday sales at two locations on Friday, Nov. 18.

  • Oahu: 801 Dillingham Boulevard, 2nd Floor, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Hawaii Island: State Building, 75 Aupuni Street, 1st Floor, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Click here for more information or call (808) 586-5600.

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