CHARLESTON — The demand for masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted West Virginia’s Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to pitch in and help in a major way.
Inmates at the Lakin Correctional Center, the state’s prison for women, and the Denmar Correctional Center have been making protective cloth face coverings – 32,200 and counting.
Both groups are part of DCR’s Correctional Industries program, which provides a variety of goods to government agencies. As that product line includes upholstered furniture, the inmates were already adept at working with fabrics and patterns, said program Deputy Director Betty Slack.
“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.”
With material supplied by the W.Va. National Guard, the inmates are making face coverings for general use. The inmates so far have provided nearly 8,000 masks to the National Guard, for a statewide collaborative attempt at a sufficient stockpile for West Virginia. At Lakin alone, the inmates are completing at least 1,000 each day.
While not medical grade, the masks provide the level of protection recommended by the CDC for public settings. Producing these face coverings helps reserve such heavier-duty masks as N95 respirators for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.
Since last month, the Lakin and Denmar inmates have assembled more than 24,000 face coverings with DCR-supplied materials for all state prisons, jails and youth facilities – enough for every staff member, contract worker, and inmate or juvenile resident.
The Denmar inmates have donated 600 of those masks to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Greenbrier Valley Hospital, and Pocahontas County Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Inmates are also making and donating masks out of the Charleston Correctional Center. A group in the facility’s Residential Substance Abuse Treatment unit have so far provided nearly 500 masks to Charleston Area Medical Center, the Ansted Volunteer Fire Department, and the Montgomery Nursing & 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 CCC 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.”
DCR 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 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 renowned for being waterproof yet breathable, and Taslan, a woven polyester fabric with similar properties, for its project. DCR 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.