Pedal power: Incarcerated workers at 2 facilities sew masks for inmates across L.A. County

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An inmate at North County Correctional Facility sews a mask amid the coronavirus outbreak in this undated photo provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department on April 16, 2020.

An inmate at North County Correctional Facility sews a mask amid the coronavirus outbreak in this undated photo provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on April 16, 2020.

Inmates at two Los Angeles County facilities have been sewing masks for themselves and others to ease the spread of COVID-19.

Male inmates in the sewing shop at North County Correctional Facility in Santa Clarita have been making the masks since March 27, and soon female inmates who are a part of the sewing program at Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood started production as well, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials said.

Both inmates and employees in the two facilities have been wearing the cloth coverings and officials hope to provide each inmate in the jail system with at least two masks so they can wear one while the other is being washed.

“I would say their anxiety level has decreased a great deal,” Sgt. Reese Randolph said in a video released by the Sheriff’s Department, referring to inmates’ fears of being in close quarters during the outbreak.

Female inmates have made more than 1,200 masks and are “cranking out an impressive 100 pieces in an eight-hour shift,” while the male inmates have made more than 3,000 masks, officials said.

The inmates work in a production line to cut, press assemble and box up the cloth coverings, which are made from donated materials or scraps from the sewing shops.

Inmates can keep their washable masks upon release, and are encouraged to practice safety measures on their own.

“Whether inmate or employee, everyone involved in the mask project sees this as a basic human need and takes great pride in participating,” sheriff’s department officials said in a statement. “The project grew so much in popularity, inmates are waiting to be selected to help.”

Officials in the county have been working to ease inmate population in jails to help stop spread of coronavirus.

The Sheriff’s Department has reduced the jail population by about 25% to roughly 12,800 inmates, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said earlier this week.

On Thursday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said her office has conducted risk assessments for about 3,500 inmates to determine who else can be safely released back into the community.

Since the pandemic started, there have been 71 cases of COVID-19 at the county’s jail facilities, including 15 inmates and 56 staff, according to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director.

Currently, there are 13 inmates who are positive for the virus. As a result, 42 are in isolation and 193 are being quarantined, Ferrer detailed during the county’s daily briefing on the crisis.

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