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    Tampons and Pads Are Now Free for Women in Federal Prisons

    With the daily news coming at us relentlessly fast and furiously, it’s understandable that even the most hawk-eyed readers among us miss important stories. One story from earlier this month, which could have very easily slipped by your radar, is the news that the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a memo requiring pads and tampons to be made available to all incarcerated women, free of charge. Praise hands emoji!

    The memo stipulates three types of feminine hygiene products that are to be made available “at no cost to the inmates,” at all federal prisons. Those include:

    1. “Tampons, regular and super size.”
    2. “Maxi Pads with wings, regular and super size.”
    3. “Panty liners, regular.”

    This may not seem like a huge deal but it actually is, so let’s talk about why. The primary reason this is so vital is because criminal justice reform activists have long said that female inmates do not receive the items they need to manage their periods in a sanitary and humane way. Sanitary items are often available for purchase at prison commissaries, but they are expensive and many inmates do not have the money required to make the purchase. Keep in mind, most inmate wages amount to less than 20 cents per hour.

    Many former inmates have reported that they had to spend an entire week’s worth of wages on one box of tampons or pads. When even that money is not enough, the next course of action is having to beg—what is often—a male correctional officer for more sanitary products, a humiliating practice. If you think this issue is not widespread, think again: a 2015 study reported that over half of female inmates said they did not receive enough sanitary pads each month to cover their periods.

    The news that tampons and pads will now be free for incarcerated women, arrives in step with a push to make menstrual items more readily available across the board, including in schools—where many girls report missing school due to not having access to sanitary items—and shelters.

    While all of this news is excellent, it’s up to us now to make sure that these words are made good on, and that the promise to provide pads and tampons is properly enacted. Additionally, while the new mandate is excellent, it only applies to federal prisons — not state prisons and local jails where, according to the Huffington Post, the “majority of women are held.”

    Baby steps.


    Elena Sheppard is a writer who lives where all the other writers live: in Brooklyn. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and sign up for her weekly newsletter.

    stevie benanty

    stevie benanty

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