Correctional Services suggests that medical equipment be made by inmates to reduce the Hospital Authority's expenses Prison chiefs are considering setting up a factory at Hei Ling Chau jail where inmates would be taught to make surgical masks for public hospitals. Correctional Services officers will brief Hospital Authority officials next month on the proposal. It is expected it could cut the authority's expenses as inmates could produce the three-ply masks for 10 cents to 30 cents each. The masks retail for about $1. Daniel Hui Tak-fuk, Correctional Services Industries' general manager, said that if the authority accepted the proposal, a germ-free factory would be set up in December to start production in January. Mr Hui said the idea stemmed from the Sars outbreak. 'People were concerned about the supply of surgical masks during the Sars outbreak,' he said. 'It's also our intention to diversify our industries.' The plan would also allow inmates to learn more about the production of medically related products. Without citing a precise figure, Mr Hui said setting up a plant would cost several hundred thousand dollars - including relatively inexpensive disinfecting equipment and production lines. He said the department aimed to produce up to 30,000 masks a day, which should be enough to meet the demands of public hospitals and clinics. Mr Hui said the department hoped its production proposal could form a long-term supply source for public hospitals, which now have to bring in the masks from overseas. While there are no plans to make N95 masks due to the high production cost, Mr Hui said industrial masks for other government departments may be considered. He said inmates had started to make medical gowns in June for the Department of Health in the wake of the Sars outbreak. They cost only 15 cents each, compared with a retail price of several dollars. Inmates produced up to 100,000 gowns a week during peak demand, but that has dropped to about 10,000 a week. Meanwhile, Commissioner of Correctional Services Kelvin Pang Sung-yuen revealed a pilot scheme yesterday to help the rehabilitation of young inmates with two catering and bakery training courses. Inmates under 25 who will be let out within 18 months may be transferred to Lai Sun Correctional Institution - a prison for youths under 21 - to take the new courses. Mr Pang said Ma Hang Prison for men would be turned into a women's jail next month to provide an extra 220 places for female inmates to help ease overcrowding. A total of 2,855 female inmates are now sharing 1,524 places. The figures were comparable to the record high recorded in January, when the overcrowding rate at woman prisons hit 88 per cent. Staff quarters in Lai Chi Kok will also be made into a female prison by 2005 to replace Victoria Prison, giving the jail 650 places, 212 more than Victoria Prison.