National

Prisoners in Japan produce masks and protective gear amid virus crisis

Kyodo, Jiji

To aid society in the fight against COVID-19, prisoners have been set to work turning out cloth masks and protective gear, to help overcome shortages, instead of the leatherware and carpentry goods they usually make.

A total of around 100 inmates at prisons in Aomori, Kyoto, Osaka, Kakogawa, Yamaguchi, Iwakuni and Takamatsu are aiming to produce 66,000 masks each month, to meet orders received from the private sector in March.

Protective gear, which is in short supply on medical front lines, is being produced at prisons in Kyoto and Osaka, with around 4,600 sets to be dispatched monthly.

Prisoners in Tsukigata in northern Hokkaido as well as in Yokohama are also preparing to join in with production.

At the Mine Rehabilitation Program Center in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which houses first-time offenders, eight inmates have made around 1,800 cloth masks in total following a request from the city of Mine in late March.

They were delivered to children in the city last week when the first term opening ceremonies were held at elementary and junior high schools. Parents expressed gratitude for receiving them at a time when the country is experiencing mask shortages.

The center, which is the first penal institution in the nation to be run through public-private cooperation, is planning to produce 4,300 more cloth masks and offer them to the elderly by the end of April.

As prisoner activities at these facilities include sewing, companies that had previously outsourced apron production to the prisons placed orders for masks in anticipation of shortages of the protective items.

From March, the facilities have been making white gauze and colorful cloth masks.

Taking notice of the initiative, the industry ministry placed an order with the prisons for sewn protective medical gowns, called isolation gowns, earlier this month.

Due to textile shortages, however, details including the prisons to be engaged in production of the special gowns and the number of such gowns to be made at each facility have not been decided.

“Production of protective items will raise awareness about social contributions by inmates, and have the effect of keeping them from re-offending,” said a senior Justice Ministry official.

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