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story.lead_photo.caption An inmate at Hempstead County jail works on masks for county employees. Sheriff James Singleton bought material to make masks to protect deputies from COVID-19. Photo courtesy Hempstead County Sheriff's Office

HOPE, Ark. — Hempstead County jail inmates are learning some practical skills while also helping county employees stay safe.

The inmates are making cloth masks for deputies and some other county employees.

"The N95 masks we have are few and far between. We have a very limited supply of those. I noticed some other places were making their own masks and thought I would put the inmates to work," Sheriff James Singleton said.

Singleton spent his personal money and bought a couple hundred dollars worth of fabric and asked the inmates on laundry duty if they could start making cloth masks for deputies and some other county employees.

"They have been doing good; they have been turning them out," Singleton said.

The inmates on laundry duty often do basic sewing when they mend uniforms.

Handmade masks are not ideal but will be used to supplement medical-grade masks, Singleton said.

"They are better than nothing," he said. "We are trying to take care of our deputies."

The purpose of the masks is to help keep a barrier between officers and people who are coughing and sneezing. The inmates take two pieces of cloth, put felt in them and sew them together.

Other inmates have volunteered to help the inmates on laundry duty, Singleton said.

People in the community have also donated fabric for the project.

"They have told me not to buy any more, that they will help us out," Singleton said. "We would not have had enough without these masks the inmates are making. I have been in law enforcement a long time and I've never seen anything like COVID-19."

Singleton said for everyone's safety, deputies will be following CDC and Arkansas Health Department guidelines.

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