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Cornell leads statewide effort to provide protective face masks for inmates

Rob Scott, executive director of the Cornell Prison Education Program.
Dave Burbank
Rob Scott, executive director of the Cornell Prison Education Program.

The director of Cornell University’s prison education program is leading a campaign to provide more face masks to inmates across New York state.

Rob Scott with Cornell said 225 inmates in the Finger Lakes region were enrolled in the school's prison education program for the spring semester. 

However, because of the pandemic, classes have ended. Scott said online instruction is not available for incarcerated students.

“Offering college classes to congregations of people who cannot social distance inside of a prison facility is not essential," he said. "The essential thing is keeping people alive.”

Instead, Scott said, the focus has shifted to getting masks to inmates.

“Though we might not think of these folks as permanent residents of our counties, the folks that are incarcerated in the prisons in our region are potentially a huge source of contagion if we don’t treat them the same way and keep them safe from infection just like everyone else,” Scott said.

Colleges and universities involved in the New York Consortium for Higher Education in Prison solicited donations, ordered the masks and ensured they were distributed to inmates across the state.

So far, about 9,000 washable masks made by Mozaic have been sent out, and 34,000 more are expected to be made.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.