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Period Power: Periods and prisons in the US
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Period Power: Periods and prisons in the US

Recently we’ve been shedding some light on why periods are powerful in society, not just in developing countries but right on our front door step too.

From #PeriodPoverty, to girls missing out on school and even period shaming through the media (ugh, not cool!) we’ve still got a long way to go for menstruation equality! That’s why we’re all about the #PeriodPower this year.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be diving into how people are affected by attitudes towards periods in different walks of life including in schools, the workplace, homelessness and beyond.

Why are we talking about periods in prisons?

Globally there are over 700,000 women in prisons at this moment, with some of the highest numbers in the US, China and Russia. Regardless of why they are there or what kind of facility they are in we would all agree that, like their other gendered counterparts, they should have access to basic health care and sanitation (treatment of women in prisons around the world is a huge important topic, but one we can only touch upon briefly in this blog post! If you’re interested in reading more check out what The Marshall Project wrote!)

Unfortunately this is where menstruation can really affect your quality of life, to the point of risking the physical and psychological health of many of these women around the world. Whether it’s a lack of access to proper shower facilities, help with severe symptoms or, most commonly, even lack of access to enough period products. Most rely on tampons and pads rather than menstrual cups, so these have to be provided regularly.

Prisons may seem like a far off world to you and me but we all care about others having access basic human rights and the biases that affect menstruators in prison are also a reflection on what happens outside the prison walls too.

Periods in Prisons in the US.

Before we dive into the topic of menstruating in prisons in the US, let’s remind ourselves of the differences between federal prisons and state prisons – because knowledge is power!

What is a federal prison?

In 1930, U.S. President Hoover established federal incarceration facilities, ran by the federal government, due to the rise in crimes that violated federal laws. In present day, federal prisons usually have higher security and incarcerate inmates that are drug peddlers, politicians, bank robbers, and white collar crimes, with males dominating the population.

What is a state prison?

State prisons are regulated and looked after by state authorities. State prisons are considered to be more “unsafe” and have a lower level of security than federal prisons. The people sent to state prisons are those who might have committed crimes of murder, rape, gun related offenses, etc., and are higher in number than federal prisons. However, you can find similar kinds of criminals in both state and federal prisons.

So, what’s happening inside of them?

Unfortunately, not all menstruators are created equally. If you thought the tampon tax was absurd (because it is), how does not having access to high quality, affordable period care in prison sound? Yeah, you probably don’t want to be in that situation, but some are. In 2015, the Correctional Association of New York published a study about reproductive injustice for menstruators in New York state prisons. The results were shocking. About 54% of menstruators in prisons have insufficient period care supplies, and the access they do have don’t meet their needs (think thin liners and really shitty pads). Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? That’s not all. 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 will wear the same one for several days because they can’t find a fresh one, and it ends up falling out or no longer sticking to their underwear. If this doesn’t scream, “WHERE’S THE MENSTRUAL EQUITY?” then I don’t know what does.

The fact that many menstruating humans in prisons are not treated with respect during their cycle is a huge problem, and it is extremely humiliating for these inmates to ask a male correctional officer for hygiene products. Making .75 cents a day to buy tampons in prison (which could cost around $5 a pack) just does not add up after considering all the other supplies they are allowed to buy.

Periods in prisons: What needs to change?

As of August 1st, 2017, women in federal prisons are now granted access to FREE tampons (regular and super size), pads (regular, maxi, and super size with wings), and panti liners (regular). Sounds like a change in a positive direction, but it shouldn’t stop there!

State and local jails still have not passed these new laws that allow free period products to inmates, which is still a huge issue because most menstruating humans are sent to state and local prisons.

So what can be done? Do some digging. Research what federal and state prisons are like in your state and what regulations they have. Contact your local representatives and demand for a bill to be passed that allows free menstrual products for prisoners. Make your voice heard!

Menstrual hygiene isn’t and should not be a luxury, it’s a basic human right and a necessity every menstruator should have.

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