Periods are nothing new, but there's a critical difference between an inmate and a regular menstruating human who experiences periods. While you could easily spend five dollars on a sandwich, at times, that could mean a box of pads for an inmate. Getting your period in prison is one of the biggest struggles that menstruating inmates face. Though women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population, prisons only offer cheap pads that don't stick or absorb well in many states. Female prisoners often have to fashion makeshift tampons out of bedding, clothes, toilet paper, or whatever else they can find. The lack of adequate supplies leads to some women getting sick: there was an instance when a woman in Maryland told lawmakers that she'd suffered toxic shock syndrome after using toilet paper as tampons in her prison—she ended up needing an emergency hysterectomy. Inmates have the option to purchase better pads and tampons in the commissary, a prison's version of a corner store. But they're often too expensive.
Unfortunately, not all menstruators are created equally. 2015 saw the Correctional Association of New York publishing a study about reproductive injustice for menstruators in New York state prisons. The resulting results were shocking. On average, about 54% of menstruators in prisons have insufficient period care supplies, and their access doesn't meet their needs. Chandra Bozelko, a woman who spent six years at York Correctional Institution and now blogs about her prison experiences, revealed how menstruators who wear pads in prison would wear the same one for several days because they couldn't find a fresh one. It ends up falling out or no longer sticking to their underwear.
At the moment, there is a massive push for better period supplies across the US. In 2017, a memo was issued requiring wardens in federal facilities to provide these products for free by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Beyond that, Colorado, Maryland, Nebraska, Arizona, and New York are some states that have changed their policies in recent years to improve access to menstrual products. Alabama lawmakers sought the consideration of a similar bill after, in 2014, the Justice Department found that inmates there were forced to engage in sexual acts with guards to get their hands on these products. A consent decree later required prisons in Alabama to provide them for free. However, a state senator recently said she'd received reports that women inmates are still not receiving them "in a timely manner." As of 2019, there are only 15 states that have Period equity laws, and at the moment, almost 20 bills in 9 states have been introduced to advance menstrual equity.
However, not every lawmaker is open to improving the quality of life for incarcerated women. In Maine, Republican state Rep. Richard Pickett argued against a state bill that would ensure unrestricted access to pads and tampons in prisons, declaring that incarcerated women already held sufficient access. Stating that "Quite frankly, and I don't mean this in any disrespect, the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club," he added, according to reporter Alex Acquisto from Bangor Daily News.
While as of August 1st, 2017, women in federal prisons now have access to free tampons (regular and supersize), pads (regular, maxi, and supersize with wings), and pantyliners (regular). It might sound like a change in a positive direction, but it doesn't stop there. State and local jails still have not passed these new laws that allow free period products to inmates, which is always a huge issue because most menstruating humans are sent to state and local prisons.
So what can you do to help? Do your research. Figure out what federal and state prisons are like in your state and what regulations they have. Click the button below to start a Period Product donation drive for your local prison. Menstrual hygiene isn't and should not be a luxury, it's a fundamental human right and a necessity every menstruator should have.