DES MOINES, Iowa — There probably won't be any squeeze tests involved, but Iowa prisons could soon be stocking prison-made toilet paper in a new endeavor to save taxpayers money and provide jobs to inmates.
The Des Moines Register reported Thursday that inmates at prisons in Anamosa and Mitchellville are testing a single-ply tissue processed at a Missouri prison.
"Our challenge is to seek out new things that we can do, and, well, toilet tissue is a high-consumption item," said Roger Baysden, director of Iowa Prison Industries.
Baysden said there have been no complaints about the product from the Crossroads Correctional Center at Cameron, Mo., and Iowa inmates could start processing toilet paper next year — if the Legislature supports the idea.
Iowa inmates already make dozens of products, including license plates and office furniture. Iowa Prison Industries, which receives no taxpayer money, employs about 600 inmates and generates about $22 million in revenue each year.
Iowa's nine prisons hold about 8,900 inmates and have around 2,800 employees. The prisons use about 900,000 rolls of toilet paper annually. Processing it in-house would save about $100,000 a year compared with buying it from a vendor. It would also create jobs for about 50 inmates.
Al Reiter, the associate warden at Anamosa, said Prison Industries would buy 1-ton rolls of toilet tissue from paper mills. Special toilet paper-processing equipment, costing about $350,000, would rewind it, slice it into smaller rolls and package it.
"It's not nice and fluffy, but the state is saying that this is an acceptable roll of toilet paper," Reiter said.
John Scott, administrator for Missouri Vocational Enterprises, which operates jobs programs in Missouri's prison system, said his agency has been supplying toilet paper since 2005.
"In our estimation, we have been very successful," he said.
If the Iowa plan is as successful as Missouri's, it's possible inmate-made toilet paper could be used elsewhere in state government, Baysden said.