DENVER (KDVR) — The Denver Sheriff Department implemented a policy on April 29 that charges inmates $2.60 anytime an inmate wants a replacement face mask.
“Charging the inmates is not good because a lot of the inmates don’t have money. They come in and they’re indigent,” said a recently released inmate who asked FOX31 to protect his identity.
“You get a clean razor every time you want to shave and I know a razor costs more than a mask, I would think,” said the inmate.
The inmate said that other inmates were creating their own homemade masks.
“They would poke holes in the towels and make just like a protective mask.”
A department spokeswoman told the Problem Solvers inmates are given a donated cloth mask when they enter the Intake Unit and then a department-issued mask made by Department of Corrections prisoners when county inmates enter the general population.
The sheriff department considers face masks part of an inmate’s uniform, so if it’s damaged or needs to be replaced, inmates get charged.
However, on Thursday evening, a sheriff department spokesperson clarified that inmates who cannot afford to buy a mask will be given one for free.
“They’re certainly making the inmates pay for their own safety, but they’re also making everyone pay for it because the costs of not preventing this spread are going to be so much bigger than the costs of a second masks,” said Anna Edwards-Holland, a civil rights attorney who has sued jails before over inadequate medical care.
Holland-Edwards calls the policy short-sighted because masks are a key method to preventing the spread of infection.
“They’re not even trying to protect the person wearing it. There are deputies, other inmates in the facility, there are medical providers in the facility and having only one mask is simply inadequate,” she said.
Unlike state prisons where inmates can make money working in the kitchen or elsewhere, the Denver Jail only allows inmates to earn time off their sentences, not money.
If they don’t have family adding money to their accounts, they may have no options.
FOX31 contacted the county jails in Arapahoe, Douglas, Jefferson, Boulder, Adams, Weld and Larimer counties for their mask polices along with the state Department of Corrections.
Boulder County didn’t respond, but all the other jails and prisons confirmed they don’t charge inmates for masks.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections told FOX31:
“Correctional Industries made the masks for the Denver Sheriff’s Office at the same cost the Department of Corrections paid. We were not aware that the Sheriff’s Office was planning on selling them. These masks are the same cloth masks we have had made for staff and our DOC inmate population. We have not charged our inmates or staff for these masks.”
A spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office emailed the Problem Solvers its policy as well, saying, “Every inmate in the facility is issued a new triple layer epidemic emergency medical mask every morning. These are disposable masks and there is no cost to the inmates.”