Virginia prison inmates are manufacturing masks for offenders and staff to guard against sneezing and coughing.
The non-medical-grade masks are intended to help keep COVID-19 out of the more than 40 state correctional facilities and are being made at four prisons by Virginia Correctional Enterprise (VCE) apparel plants, said the department in a news release Monday.
On Sunday, 5,200 masks were delivered to Coffeewood Correctional Center and 4,900 to Dillwyn Correctional Center. Eighty masks are being delivered to probation and parole officers on Monday.
The Deerfield Correctional Center, which houses many elderly and ill inmates, will receive the next round of masks.
"The Virginia Department of Corrections is now manufacturing sneeze/cough guard masks for use by Virginia DOC staff and offenders," said Harold W. Clarke, director of the DOC, in a statement. "These are not medical grade masks but they will aid in the effort to keep COVID-19 out of the state’s correctional facilities."
The amount inmates are paid to work for VCE was not available Monday from the Department of Corrections. According to a 2017 survey of states by the Prison Policy Initiative, Virginia inmates working for VCE were paid 55 cents to 80 cents per hour.
There are no known cases of COVID-19 among offenders or staff in the department’s more than 40 facilities across the state as of Monday, said the department.
The department said it hopes to produce up to 15,000 masks a day. Virginia Correctional Enterprise also manufactures cleaning supplies approved by the EPA for use in combating the coronavirus.
VCE is a self-supporting division of the Department of Corrections to provide job training and certification opportunities to offenders.
The department said the COVID-19 emergency has all Virginia DOC prisons on modified lockdown to minimize contact among offenders in different buildings.
Prisoners will eat in their pods and go to recreation with their own pod of offenders and will not eat with or have recreation with offenders from other pods until further notice.