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Lomont to hire incarcerated individuals through Prison Industry Enhancement Program

GTNS photo by Grace KingMaria Yeast checks products manufactured at Lomont Molding LLC in Mt. Pleasant on Friday, Feb. 15. Lomont will be adding incarcerated individuals from the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility to their workforce through the Prison Industry Enhancement program with Iowa Prison Industries. They are expected to begin hiring from the correctional facility in April.
GTNS photo by Grace KingMaria Yeast checks products manufactured at Lomont Molding LLC in Mt. Pleasant on Friday, Feb. 15. Lomont will be adding incarcerated individuals from the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility to their workforce through the Prison Industry Enhancement program with Iowa Prison Industries. They are expected to begin hiring from the correctional facility in April.
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Lomont Molding LLC in Mt. Pleasant will be hiring incarcerated men from the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility to supplement their workforce through the Prison Industry Enhancement program with Iowa Prison Industries.

Lomont will be the first company in Henry County to take advantage of the Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE) program, which allows incarcerated individuals to work for private companies.

“The need for employees is great,” said Jason Bender, president and CEO of Lomont. “And it’s not just for Lomont, it’s every company around here. We have openings.”

PIE has proved successful in other areas of the state, said Daniel Clark, with Iowa Prison Industries, during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 12.

The Code of Iowa requires a representative from Iowa Prison Industries to meet with a county’s Board of Supervisors about any new program, Clark said. Supervisors do not have to make a motion or approve the program, it is just a formality and an opportunity to give supervisors a chance to ask questions on behalf of the citizens.

Incarcerated individuals are able to keep 20 percent of they earn. The other 80 percent of their paycheck goes to pay federal and state taxes, social security, Medicare, victim compensation and court ordered restitution, Clark said. Wages are determined by the state.

The 20 percent they do earn is “much more” than anything they would be able to make at the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility by working in areas like the laundry room or kitchen, Clark said.

Clark said if companies have an issue with incarcerated individuals from the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility, they can talk to the prison and that person will not return to work.

“There’s 20 other guys behind him wanting that job,” Clark said. “We see really good behavior. They like it. They’re away from prison. They get out, make some good money, and have the chance to be in a ‘normal’ environment. It’s been extremely popular.”

Clark said incarcerated individuals from the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility are already going to work every day for the city of Mt. Pleasant, Habitat for Humanity and other areas in town, but Lomont is the first private company in Henry County under PIE.

A year and a half ago, West Liberty Foods looked into PIE but decided not to move forward with the program, Clark said. “It’s not for every company,” he said, adding that manufacturing companies like Lomont usually have the greatest need for more employees.

Clark said companies have to keep in mind incarcerated individuals will only be with them for a short time before being released from prison and returning to their hometowns across the state.

Men in PIE will be released from prison between six to 18 months after they are eligible for the program.

“It helps them get on the right path and not wind up back in prison,” Clark said.

Incarcerated individuals hired by Lomont will be transported to and from work by Lomont. They will be searched before leaving the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility and searched again upon their return.

Lomont uses a temp service to find employees, and Bender said they will always turn to this first to hire employees. However, Bender said if they need 26 employees and the temp agency can only provide six, the other 20 people can be from PIE.

Incarcerated individuals will be trained at Lomont like any other employee. Any new employee at Lomont begins Monday with first shift and goes through a two hour classroom orientation. From there, they strap on a neon vest to alert everyone that they are new to the floor and work with an experienced operator for two weeks to a month. Once they are fully trained, they are distributed to the shift they were hired to work.

Bender said they have had meetings with current employees to keep them update about incorporating PIE and will continue to address any questions and concerns.

Bender said Lomont is “very progressive about growth, finishing a 25,000 square foot addition last year, the fifth addition to the Mt. Pleasant facility. With 22 acres of land, Bender said they would love to add another additional 40,000 square foot facility, but they do not yet have the personnel to support it.

“You have to have people,” Bender said. “We want to be able to grow. We have the infrastructure here.”

Supervisor Marc Lindeen said he appreciates Lomont taking advantage of PIE.

“I look at it as a win-win,” Lindeen said.