January 6, 2022
Sandy C. Freese
In 2017, the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a guidance memo stating that women who are incarcerated would receive, at no cost to them, menstrual cycle supplies. However, that included only federal prisons. Many state prisons still have no regulations or mandates in place to provide needed supplies for their female inmates. This is not uncommon. Women should not even have to ask for supplies as they should be in common areas, such as rest rooms, to begin with.
According to a 2019 Period Equity and ACLU Report, correctional officers in an Alabama state prison were coercing female inmates to have sex in exchange for menstrual supplies. The idea of having to pay with your body for something that is genuinely need is beyond reproach. I have interviewed several women who have said that rather than being given the amount of supplies needed for each cycle, many incarcerated women get 2 to 3 tampons per week or nothing at all. USA Today shared the story of Chandra Bozelko, who was serving a six and a half year sentence in York Correctional Institution, the only state women's facility in Connecticut. After bleeding profusely and pleading for help, she was told by the facility's physician that nothing was wrong. Upon her release, she went to a physician who removed an ovarian polyp. Still, years later, Ms. Bozelko remembers the shame and degradation she faced. The sanitary napkins she received were thin and the adhesive was weak. She had to reuse the napkins which is highly unhealthy. She spoke of seeing another female inmate's sanitary napkin fall from her clothing to the floor and this was prevalent!
Is society as a whole aware of what is happening as these female citizens struggle? Doubtful, this is just one more issue being swept under the rug. Is it a matter of embarrassment of our male leaders to attend to this situation? Perhaps, in 2018, Committee Chairman, Rep. Jay Lawrence of Arizona had this to say," “I’m almost sorry I heard the bill, I didn’t expect to hear ‘pads’ and ‘tampons’ and the problems of periods.” It seems that our correctional facilities were build with men in mind, however, with the female prison population on the rise, change is obligatory.
There is hope. In May of 2021 Congresswoman Grace Weng, of New York, introduced the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021. This includes state correctional facilities along with all public federal buildings, employers who have more than 100 employees, the homeless population, and colleges and universities. There is greater hope when we pull together to expose this situation and work together to ensure change.