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West Virginia inmates making facemasks

Inmates at the Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County are assembling protective face coverings in response to COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

CHARLESTON — Inmates at two facilities operated by the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation are making facemasks for their part to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Inmates at the Lakin Correctional Center, the prison for women, and the Denmar Correctional Center have been making protective cloth face coverings and have produced 32,200 and counting, the division said.

The facilities are part of the division’s Correctional Industries program, which provides goods to government agencies. As that product line includes upholstered furniture, the inmates were already adept at working with fabrics and patterns, program Deputy Director Betty Slack said.

“They are taking great pride in this project,” Slack said. “I’ve been to both shops and they are thrilled they were able to offer design ideas, etc. and realize they have one of the most important functions in state government right now.”

Inmates are making face coverings for general use with material supplied by the West Virginia National Guard. About 8,000 masks have been provided to the National Guard for a statewide stockpile.

At Lakin, inmates are making at least 1,000 each day.

While not medical-grade, the masks provide the level of protection recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for public settings. Producing these face coverings helps reserve heavier-duty masks as N95 respirators for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

Since March, Lakin and Denmar inmates have assembled more than 24,000 face coverings for all state prisons, jails and youth facilities, enough for every staff member, contract worker and inmate or juvenile resident.

Denmar inmates have donated 600 of those masks to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Greenbrier Valley Hospital and Pocahontas County Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Inmates also are making and donating masks from the Charleston Correctional Center. A group in the facility’s Residential Substance Abuse Treatment unit have so far provided 500 masks to Charleston Area Medical Center, the Ansted Volunteer Fire Department, and the Montgomery Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, among others.

“When we reached out to CAMC to see if they would be interested in the masks, they were very excited and have even donated a couple of sewing machines to assist with the project,” said Charleston Superintendent Jeff Stinnett. “The female inmates that are involved love doing it and have become very resourceful and creative making various type masks. As far as donations, we’ll be glad to try and help whoever has a need.”

Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen has visited the inmates at both facilities to encourage and thank them for their work. Helping them sew at each workshop, she said she came away “truly inspired by the enthusiasm for this project and the determination to ‘give something positive back’ to society.”

“These men and women stepped up and asked to be a part of the ongoing fight against the virus,” Jividen said. “We are very proud of their contribution and the key role they are playing in the statewide preventative effort to save West Virginia lives.”

The National Guard has supplied Gore-Tex, a lightweight synthetic material that is waterproof yet breathable, and Taslan, a woven polyester fabric with similar properties, for its project. The Corrections Department is supplying polypropylene fabric, also breathable and liquid-repellant, for the masks distributed among its facilities. All of the masks are hand-washable and quick-drying.

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