Women prisoners deserve basic sanitary rights

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Following the proposal of The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which requires federal prisons to provide feminine hygiene products free of charge, state legislatures are slowly but surely following in suit enacting their own state bills, but access to these necessary products remain limited
to many.

The bill initially introduced to Congress this past summer would positively affect the 14,000 women in federal prisons but the 99,000 in state prisons and 96,000 in local jails would be left unaffected.

The ability to access feminine hygiene products should not be considered a luxury but a necessity. A woman does not choose to have her menstrual cycle. Denying a woman adequate hygiene products is not only embarrassing but leaves them at risk to infection with the lack of cleanliness.

While major changes are being made at a federal level, it is now up to individual states to make the real change.

With only 6 percent of the country’s female inmate population affected by this, representatives must roll with the momentum the act has stirred up to see statewide changes.

Maryland, Virginia, Nebraska and Arizona are seeing similar state bills passed through but more states need to join forces to bring to light the issue and tackle it head-on.

Previous laws required the prisons to carry feminine hygiene products but did not specify the quality or if they needed to remain stocked. With a lack of available free supplies, women are forced to spend the little money they receive from their on-site jobs to buy expensive alternatives at the commissary or make a request to male correctional officers — a request that often falls on deaf ears. Sen. Susan Lee, D- Md., acted as the chief sponsor of her state’s bill.

“Menstrual hygiene products should not be considered a luxury and Maryland must do more to prevent dehumanizing situations where women inmates don’t have sanitary necessities,” Lee said.

In Arizona, inmates are given 12 free pads a month but if they need to buy additional ones, it will cost them 21 hours worth of pay for a box of pads and 27 hours of pay for a box of tampons, Rep. Athena Salman, D-Ariz., told the committee voting on her proposal.

Having proper feminine products is a reasonable request and a right that should be available to all women no matter their criminal record. States should continue to make progress for the other 94 percent of women in state and local prisons who are not able to receive them.

About Lauren Shelburne

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