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Correctional Industries

Building Work Skills for Re-entry into the Modern Workplace

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How Mobile ERP Helps Correctional Industry (CI) Manufacturers Overcome Training and Profitability Challenges

By modernizing their ERP software and wirelessly enabling shop floor data collection, Michigan State Industries and other CI manufacturers provide adults in custody with marketable skills while boosting profitability.

Wi-Fi, mobile data collection, paperless manufacturing and ERP software have become table stakes for manufacturers and warehousing companies in nearly every industry. However, companies operating in the Correctional Industries (CIs) must overcome a few additional challenges before implementing these technologies:


  • The primary workers – inmates – can’t have free rein over the Internet, so wireless mobile computing devices must be secure and internet access restricted.

  • Many CIs have limited IT staff, so they must outsource management and support, which factors into their deployment decisions.

  • CIs have a mission to provide technology and life skills training to inmates to assist with workers’ re-entry into society and reduce the recidivism (i.e., returning to jail) rate.

  • Many CIs receive no state funding or budget from the legislature, so they must survive by creating a profit by selling products, like other businesses. In addition, CI manufacturers can be audited by their respective state governing bodies to prove profitability and GAAP compliance. Factories that are repeat offenders of below satisfactory audit results, jeopardize the ability to operate and take on new contracts that give inmates much-needed training.

Despite these many challenges, Correctional Industries are finding ways to not only survive but thrive in this competitive market. Michigan State Industries (MSI) is one example of a public sector organization that found a way to update its IT infrastructure, become self-sufficient when it comes to day-to-day factory hardware & software support, and provide next-level training for inmates. This was achieved by partnering with Global Shop & EMS Barcode Solutions. Not only has this provided MSI with the tools and information needed to handle an audit for compliance, but MSI is starting to see new opportunities arise that were never considered before. 

Non-Negotiable CI Tech Investment Prerequisites

The business challenge that started MSI’s research was its legacy ERP system. “There were several problems with the legacy software,” recalls Bob Belmonte, the lead ERP Sr. Business Analyst at the State of Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB). Belmonte was hired specifically to assess the problem and help with the technology updates. “Another ERP company acquired the incumbent ERP vendor, and they stopped investing in

their product and discontinued maintenance and support, putting pressure on MSI to handle these tasks,” he says. “The new vendor offered a cloud-based product MSI could’ve switched to, but it would have been just as disruptive as moving to a new provider, so the DTMB considered other options for a new ERP solution by creating an RFP and analyzing all the bids.”

One advantage correctional institutions have over private sector companies is they don’t view other prisons as competitors. “It’s quite common for agencies in one state to share best practices with other institutions – both within the state and even with other states,” says Belmonte. “After contacting four other state correctional operations, MSI saw that most of them were using Global Shop Solutions (GSS) with excellent results.”

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After doing its due diligence, MSI determined that GSS met its requirements, including:

  • A fully integrated ERP software solution – to facilitate shop floor automation

  • Vendor-provided consultation, training, and support – to limit the dependence on the DTMB including correctional industries experience and knowledge

  • Long-term commitment to product development and updates – to avoid a repeat of its current legacy software predicament

  • A centralized database – MSI’s legacy system had a separate, on-premises database for each manufacturing facility, making it complex to manage


Belmonte says extracting the data from the legacy system and importing and converting it into the Global Shop ERP took a few weeks, followed by five months of testing and training to ensure everything worked properly. “That was the easier part of the implementation,” he says, “because it primarily involved accounting, sales, and admin staff, not the prisoners and the production environment. Under the legacy ERP, inmates and other shop floor workers had minimal engagement with the ERP software. With Global Shop, it had more features, and MSI’s newly appointed Administrator, Christopher Kamrada, saw additional opportunities to provide training. “He envisioned the new ERP playing an instrumental role in equipping inmates with valuable trade skills that could help them reintegrate into society,” says Belmonte. “But, to achieve that goal, we’d have to do something that hadn’t been done before in a correctional facility – provide wireless mobility in the manufacturing prison factory environment.”

Next-Level ERP: Factory Automation

After communicating its goals to Global Shop, the vendor recommended its certified hardware partner and solution provider, EMS Barcode Solutions. EMS sells, implements, and supports GS-certified barcode scanners, printers, tablets, and other equipment; plus, it’s a certified Meraki reseller. “While there are many Wi-Fi vendors, we’ve found Cisco Meraki to be a perfect fit for warehousing and manufacturing environments for multiple reasons,” says Eric Sutter, Lead Barcode Consultant at EMS. “Besides providing superior scalability, stability, and highly customizable user controls, Meraki offers unbeatable security and the Meraki cloud dashboard that allows us to create, configure, and support all the networking gear and all hardware inside the prison factories. 


While Meraki’s reputation was enough to pique MSI’s interest, it still needed more assurance before taking the unprecedented step of implementing wireless in its facilities.

MSI’s goals for factory automation were to:

  • Install a secure wireless network for all shop floor communications

  • Provide clerk-inmates access to GSS on secured PC workstations

  • Implement GS-Mobile for all inventory transactions in the factory/warehouse

  • Implement real-time labor and production reporting via GSS Shop Floor Data Collection (SFDC) secured workstations/kiosks


“We worked with EMS and put the Meraki gear through the paces – installing, testing, configuring, and locking everything down to make it prison safe,” recalls Belmonte. “Before going live, we even hired a third-party cybersecurity firm to run penetration tests and identify any holes we may have overlooked.”


After getting the green light from DTMB, SOM-Cyber Security, and the Michigan Dept. of Corrections on the network, EMS implemented five mobile workstations – three for shop floor workers to log in and out of their shifts and work orders and two for clerks used for creating work orders, purchase orders, and shipping labels. “We’re also using rugged barcode scanners (GSS Mobile 3) and label printers (GSS Wireless Desktop) at our workstations to enable our factory automation initiatives,” says Belmonte.


Working with a hardware provider like EMS also fulfills MSI’s requirement not to have to manage technology internally. If a user isn’t sure whether a problem is hardware- or software-related, they can contact Global Shop or EMS for support. “We work closely together and can help clients quickly resolve things,” says Sutter, “unlike the finger pointing and back and forth that’s so common between other software and hardware support teams.” Plus, every barcode scanner, printer, and wireless access point EMS sells and deploys includes a 3-year TCO guarantee. “More than a mere warranty against hardware defects, our guarantee covers accidental breaks and other mishaps,” says Sutter. “For example, if a worker drops a handheld on the concrete accidentally, the client can send us the broken device, and we’ll fix it and send it back at no additional cost. Anyone who’s ever worked directly with a hardware manufacturer or other outsourced IT provider can attest that this is far above and beyond the norm.”

Wayne Devenbaugh, a Superintendent who oversees MSI’s Ionia Garment Factory and the Carson City Garment Factory, says the new ERP and mobile technologies are much more engaging for the workers. “This is especially true for the clerks who are using the full version of GSS on their workstations and doing tasks like creating work orders and purchase orders, shipping, and checking inventory,” he says.

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“With the new system, we can more accurately capture our time, plus the cost of goods and other key metrics to know exactly how much we’re spending – and making – from each product we manufacture and sell. It also creates an excellent opportunity for our clerks to learn new skills to help them in the outside world.”

Capturing these metrics helps with CIs’ training initiatives, Martin Thomas, Senior Operations Consultant at Global Shop Solutions, says. “A shop supervisor can easily run a report showing how many hours a worker has performed barcode scanning, printing, and other tasks, and they can include these details on a ‘certificate of completion.’ “Inmates can use these certificates to build up their resumes and become more competitive in the workplace.”

Closing Thoughts

At the time of this article, MSI has rolled out the new ERP at all 12 of its facility operations, GSS for clerks/inmates, GS-Mobile at 7 MSI factories, and GSS SFDC workstations at 3 facilities, with the remaining factories to be implemented by Spring 2023.


Belmonte admits that it’s too early to predict ROI numbers or financial savings, but the updates meet MSI’s initial objectives. “MSI has significantly reduced its dependence on DTMB by moving on-premises servers to the cloud, and we’ve consolidated the databases from 12 to one with Global Shop,” he says. “Another big win is the opportunity this gives to the MSI inmates to increase their professional skills.”


Compared to the average rates of recidivism among Michigan inmates, those who participated in MSI’s work program are significantly less likely to re-offend, saving Michigan taxpayers thousands of dollars per inmate per year. In addition, MSI employs 450 inmates at its facility operations and has awarded more than 250 professional certifications, making it far simpler for its workers to reintegrate into society and far less likely to re-offend.


“Providing additional training for inmates and unlocking valuable features of Global Shop Software by using devices connected to Wi-Fi is something new and a great next step, but Global Shop has been working with the corrections industry since 2000,” says Jill Long, Team Lead at GSS. “Global Shop is used in CIs across 10 other states, ranging geographically from Alabama to Idaho, providing thousands of hours of training for inmates on a path to re-enter the modern workplace.”

“And our goal is to expand into the other 40 states very soon,” adds Thomas. “In addition, combining our ERP software and EMS’ mobile hardware has proven to exceed CIs’ training and security demands while enabling something every manufacturer, regardless of industry, strives for when investing in new tech – increased productivity and profitability.”


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Bob Belmonte

Lead ERP Sr. Business Analyst

State of Michigan - DTMB

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Wayne Devenbaugh

Factory Superintendent     

State of Michigan - DTMB


Jill Long

Team Lead

Global Shop Solutions

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Martin Thomas

Sr. Operations Consultant

Global Shop Solutions

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Eric Sutter

Lead Barcode Consultant 

EMS Barcode Solutions

Global Shop Certified Hardware
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