A new policy issued by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) mandates that all federal facilities that house female inmates must provide free tampons and pads. The August 1st memorandum states that the BOP “ensures that female inmates have access to a range of feminine hygiene products related to menstruation.” This mandate will not apply to state prisons and jails.

For many incarcerated women, access to feminine hygiene products is a hardship. In some institutions, pads and tampons are distributed at the leisure of correctional officers and women often have to trade with other inmates in order to obtain them. For most women, they are required to request pads or tampons from correctional officers and they are given products on an “as-needed basis” or are required to purchase products at high prices at the prison commissary. In more severe cases, women are left with improvised supplies such as medical gauze or with no tampons or pads at all.

The new policy sets an important precedent on the federal level. The previous BOP memorandum pertaining to feminine hygiene products was ultimately vague and only asserted that women will have access to these products. The new policy states that all women in federal institutions will have access to pads and tampons “at no cost to the inmates.”

This memorandum comes just one month after the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” was introduced to the senate by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and sponsored by Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) , and Dick Durbin (D-IL). This bill includes a section devoted to the availability and quality of certain healthcare products including tampons and sanitary napkins.  The bill also would amend visitation regulations for inmates who are parents to allow more time with family members and require all institutions to offer parenting classes. Additionally, the bill would protect incarcerated pregnant women from being placed in segregated housing units or from being shackled.

Pregnant prisoners in US prisons and jails face harsh and sometimes dehumanizing treatment. These women often struggle to access physical and mental health care. In many states, it is common practice to shackle female prisoners while they are in labor or even while they are giving birth regardless of whether or not the inmate has a history of violent behavior. This practice of shackling pregnant women furthers the trauma incarcerated women already endure in the US prison system.

The number of women in US prisons and jails continues to rise with an 800% increase from 1977 to 2007 making such provisions aimed to protect the dignity and health of female prisoners highly necessary.

Media Resources: The Mercery News 8/11/17; The New York Times 4/20/17; Federal Bureau of Prisons 8/1/17; Senate Bill S.1524; USA Online Journal 8/11/17; Eat Bay Times 8/11/17; Feminist Newswire 7/1/14

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