Bradley Lum is the newest CEO for the Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation. Lum said he felt drawn to the organization for the chance to develop more programs and reduce recidivism among incarcerated Mississippians. Lum plans to shift the focus back to the corporations’ original ‘mission’ since taking the office.
The Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation is a non-profit corporation that provides realistic work experience for sentenced adult offenders who live within Mississippi correctional facilities. Their programs include job training, work experience and employment skills that can later lead to employment upon release from MDOC.
The corporation itself trains offenders in quality production industries while they are still in prison. MPIC has multiple locations throughout Mississippi in which various correctional facilities send inmates to develop the products and work in the sales division. At any given time they employ 500-700 inmates.
Offenders who would like to seek employment opportunities within MPIC must pass an application process, be signed off on by a counselor within their facility and are only accepted on an “as needed” per job basis.
“In the previous short term, the focus of the organization had really become more about growing revenue and really becoming a main-stream manufacturing organization,” said Lum. “Frankly, the mission of this organization is not that.”
Lum says the idea of manufacturing and production are a ‘means to an end.’
“We don’t exist to create a widget. We create a widget so we can ultimately create marketable ex-offenders who are entering society and can have opportunities to get work and have all the support that they need,” said Lum. He hopes that the organization can do their job so well that ex-offenders have the skills needed to not go back to prison for any reason.
Lum comes to the office after graduating from the University of Mississippi. He is a Mississippi College School of Law graduate and has a prior record for running for office back in 2011 for a seat in the House of Representatives. He started a trucking company in 2015 until late 2018 when he moved into legal consulting work. He has been in the position with MPIC for just under 3 months.
Since coming to be the CEO of MPIC, Lum said one of the first things they did was create the Missions Department. The goal of this department is to make sure ex-offenders have support and sustainability once they are released. Lum isn’t just focused on the first job someone obtains once they are released, but ensuring that they have the skills to obtain the next job if they need to and can function well as an employee no matter where they go.
The Mission Department consists of the Internal Division, the Transitional Division, and the External Division. They are currently in the process of looking for a full-time director. Lum expects to have this person in place by December 1.
From an internal standpoint Lum says they are working toward a three-year re-entry plan. Some aspects that plan will include, Work Keys (the ACT testing that many manufacturing facilities go towards when looking or employees) and Smart Start (a soft skill training program).
“Obviously you can teach somebody every skill in the book but if they don’t have soft skills and the ability to operate as an employee and work in an environment they’re going to be lost,” said Lum.
Another portion of their program includes an incentive-based savings account. Inmates would be required to meet certain benchmarks in order to gain access to the account. The goal would be to prepare them financially for life outside of MDOC walls. All individuals currently working for MPIC are paid now.
While MPIC has had a transition center in the past, Lum says at this time there is no plan to reintroduce the center. Instead they plan to work with existing transition centers.
“One of the things we are most excited about, we are starting an ex-offender staffing agency,” said Lum.
This agency will work with existing agencies and businesses to create relationships and facilitate ex-offenders to find the next job. There would be a shorter version for individuals who are getting out before three years.
Lum said often times when given the choice to hire an ex-felon or a non-ex-felon, employers are going to go with the non-offender, primarily because of the unknown. This agency would allow for ex-felons to be represented by an agency that in some ways can vouch for their work ethic and skills to that employer.
MPIC has a good partnership with MDOC and Lum has continued talks with Commissioner Hall on how they can continue working together to improve the outcomes for ex-offenders on the outside. He said he hopes to take the corporation in the intended direction to reduce recidivism among ex-cons.
“It’s a lot to do, but it’s worth it. There is a great opportunity here to dig in and do it the right way,” said Lum.