Free Access To Pads And Tampons Could Soon Get Easier For Women In Federal Prisons

It's an important step for women's prison reform.

Progress was made this month in the fight for women's prison reform. Refinery29 reported on Monday that, according to an August 1 memo by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, menstrual hygiene products (tampons, pads, and panty liners) must be provided to female inmates free of charge in all federal prisons. 

The site received comment from the BOP that sanitary products have already been available for free to inmates, with the types of products varying by institution. However, the new memo requires facilities to provide "a variety of products, including two sizes of tampons, two sizes of pads, and panty liners." According to Mercury News, a 1996 policy stated that "products for female hygiene needs shall be available," but the new wording is more explicit in requiring them to be free of charge.

Improved access to sanitary products was part of legislation introduced by Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren last month in an effort to improve the treatment of female inmates. Their bill, called the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, would also prevent federal prisons from shackling pregnant inmates or placing them in solitary confinement and take inmates' past trauma such as sexual assault into account.

"We need to create a prison that, yes, is holding people accountable, and yes, is allowing people to pay their debt to society for mistakes they have made, but also is about the dignity of humanity," Booker said in a press conference about the bill.

Considering there are currently more than 12,000 women incarcerated in federal prisons, these issues are incredibly important to take into consideration, and the new requirements on menstrual products is a step toward making the contents of Booker and Warren's bill a reality.

Previous efforts have been made at the local level to provide inmates with these essential products. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, signed a law last year making free menstrual products available in all public schools, jails, and shelters in the city. This new federal change will hopefully ensure that even more incarcerated women around the country have easier access to the products they need.

According to Bustle, women's current access to menstrual products in federal prisons is "inconsistent or limited." Following an Orange is the New Black plotline which addressed the issue, Mic reported last year that, according to a 2015 report by the Correctional Association of New York, 54 percent of female inmates said they were not provided enough pads each month. Those who cannot afford to buy extra at the commissary may resort to desperate measures such as trading sex with guards.

"Being able to manage your periods is so basic for women. It's a matter of dignity. It really goes to the core of a woman's personhood," Brenda V. Smith, a professor at Washington College of Law at American University, told HuffPost.

Sen. Booker told Refinery29 that he is "encouraged" by the BOP's more explicit requirements. "But a policy memo is just words on a piece of paper unless it's properly enforced," he added. "I'll be monitoring to ensure that BOP is implementing this new policy consistently at all federal prisons. I'll also be working to advance other important reforms included in the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act."

Cover image via Shutterstock / iiiphevgeniy.

(H/T: Teen Vogue)

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