It’s become part of the routine for correctional facilities all around the country: inmates are working and learning skills that will give them something to do besides return to crime when they get out. In addition, the funds generated by these programs help support the department of corrections, reducing the burden of incarcerating inmates, and they sometimes supply socially supportive services.

In South Carolina, inmates help by refurbishing office furniture both for private customers and state and local government. They also help maintain parking meters, and refurbish donated computers so they can be given to local school districts. In Kansas, though, inmates are making economy dentures.

Learning a Marketable Skill

The goal of the denture manufacturing program is to give inmates enough instruction and hands-on experience to be able to pass a denture technician certification exam after they are released.

The Kansas Education Center at Greenbrush contributed money to help found the program at the Topeka facility in 2007, and ongoing funding from the Delta Dental Foundation has helped maintain it. Currently, eight inmates at a time can participate, though it is expanding and soon will be able to accommodate 16 inmates. As inmates are released, new ones are selected that show promise and the ability to respect the program and others.

A Dental Safety Net

Through the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved (KAMU), people who are unable to afford a dentist receive the inmate-made dentures.

First, patients have impressions made at a KAMU clinic. The impressions are sent to the prison, where inmates use the impressions to hand craft a wax temporary denture. Patients try on this wax denture to make sure the fit is right, and if it is, the denture is used to make an acrylic denture with plastic teeth.

This type of program could provide a valuable service, since a lack of dentures can affect seniors. However, if South Carolina decides to reinstate dental benefits for Medicaid, it may not be as necessary.