LINCOLN — With supplies of hand sanitizer, gowns and masks scarce, inmates at Nebraska prisons are helping out by producing the in-demand items.
About 2,500 gallons of hand sanitizer have been produced, according to state prison officials.
“We produced our first batch on March 23 after meeting regulatory requirements, establishing our manufacturing process and conducting training,” said Jeremy Elder, deputy director for Cornhusker State Industries.
According to Elder, seven incarcerated individuals are producing and packaging hand sanitizer at the Administration and Warehouse Building in Lincoln, near the State Penitentiary. Green Plains Inc. is donating the industrial ethanol used to make the sanitizer.
Other inmates in the Omaha and York facilities are making masks, gowns and face shields.
Incarcerated people have the opportunity to work at Cornhusker State Industries, a self-supporting program that provides work training and certifications.
Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, said in a press release that 15% of the hand sanitizer will be used by corrections staff, with the rest distributed by the state’s public health districts.
“The more that we can produce for our own internal use, the less we are drawing on supplies which are needed in the community,” Frakes said.
Hand sanitizer will not be provided to inmates. “We are currently giving them free bars of soap and easy access to water. Alcohol-based products are dangerous. Not only are they potentially flammable, but they could pose adverse health effects if consumed,” Frakes said.
The inmates are paid $1.08 per hour, the top wage.
About 27 inmates are making masks at the Omaha Correctional Center, and many said they were happy to help.
“Helping the community is such an important part of my personal mission,” Terry, a Cornhusker employee at the Omaha correctional facility, said in comments provided by prison officials. “The chance to make an impact in the community is rare in prison.”
Samuel, also from the Omaha facility, said: “I am happy to be able to use my time and skills to be a part of something very positive. It helps me believe that I have value and I can give back to others when I return to the community.”
Elder said the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York will soon start producing masks.
“It has been wonderful to see the talents and experience of several individuals being applied to this project,” Elder said.