There are lots of things that suck about periods for all of us. From the cramp pain, to cravings, to hormones, to the constant possibility of leaking, periods take a toll on us all. For people in prison, the concern begins with having enough menstrual products to even get them through their cycle. In addition, the pain, shame and judgement felt on periods is only exacerbated while in prison.
Most prisons provide women with a set of very thin pads that are essentially panty liners. The number of pads women receive varies. Some prisons only give 10 pads to each person, while others provide up to 24. However, due to the poor quality of the pads, even 24 are often not enough since most women have to double up due to the thinness of the pads. In a prison surveyed in Missouri, half the women reported having to change their pad every half hour and some even reported wearing eight pads at a time to try and prevent leaking. In the same prison, 88% of the women said they had leaked blood onto their clothes, bedding, or the floor.
In 2017, a bill was passed that required all federal prisons to provide free quality menstrual products. However, reports indicate that most inmates are still not receiving adequate supplies. In addition, over 90% of prisoners are not housed in federal prisons, meaning that this legislation leaves the vast majority unprotected.
Tampons are not provided for free in state prisons or jails so many women create homemade tampons from the pads, clothing, or toilet paper. In the Missouri prison that was surveyed, 80% of women reported making these homemade tampons and of those 28% suffered from a vaginal infection as a result. These infections can lead to bacterial infections, toxic shock syndrome, sepsis and even death.
Some women also use toilet paper as a pad or fashioned into a tampon but that is also a scarce asset, since they are only allotted a certain number of rolls each month, it must be used sparingly. As a result, pads are traded as a commodity in many of these prisons and older prisoners that have been through menopause still take their pads so they can give them to the other women that don’t receive enough supplies.
At commissary women are able to purchase better pads and tampons. However, most women cannot afford these products since a box of pads or tampons costs around $5. If women have a prison job that pays, which not everyone does, they only pay an average of $0.14 to $0.63 an hour which makes these products extremely hard to afford considering they also have to use that money to purchase other personal care products such as deodorant and shampoo.
Some states have passed laws requiring prisons to provide an adequate amount of menstrual supplies. However, the women are required to ask the guards for extra supplies which can be a degrading and traumatizing experience. This experience can be made even worse when the guard is male, considering 40% of guards in female prisons are male, this circumstance is highly probable. Many formerly incarcerated individuals report guards using menstrual products as a way of maintaining control. Others report being required to show their blood-soaked pad to an officer to even begin the process of gaining access to higher quality products. Many women said these experiences were so traumatizing that they never did it again, despite their desperate need. In fact, after an investigation by the Justice Department, they found that guards were raping women in exchange for extra menstrual products in a prison in Alabama. Clearly, these circumstances would deter someone for asking for additional menstrual products, even when they desperately needed them.
Menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury item. Every person having access to adequate menstrual products is a basic human right. It is clear that the U.S. prison system does not see it this way. If you believe that everyone should have access to the menstrual products that they need share this article with a friend, write to your congressmen/women, or support these organizations that are trying to solve this issue!
These were the only organizations I could find that were directly supporting this cause, if you know of more, please comment them below!