Chandra Bozelko spent over six years at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut. During her time at the facility, each cell was given five pads per week to share between two inmates. This allows for only one change a day in an average cycle, instead of changing every three to four hours like recommended.
This situation is more common than many may think. Incarcerated people who menstruate are constantly denied the period products they need. They are frequently forced to pay for these products, assuming they can afford them and there are enough in stock at the prison commissary. At the York Correctional Institution Bozelko stayed at, a box of 24 pads costs $2.63, a price many cannot afford with inhumane wages and other necessities to buy.
The average inmate’s wage paid by the states for non-industry work was 93 cents an hour, according to data from corrections’ yearbooks from 2001 collected by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI). As for private industry work, the lowest reported hourly wage was 16 cents. Because there are little up-to-date wage surveys, PPI had to research various correctional facility policies in order to study changes in wages. They found that incarcerated individuals appear to be paid less today than in 2001.
Menstrual products aren’t a luxury and shouldn’t be priced as one. Menstruation is a bodily function. Incarcerated individuals don’t have control over bleeding, and they shouldn’t be forced to scavenge for material to make improvisational pads or tampons. Those who are forced to wear pads for an extended amount of time may also face health issues, including infections.
According to a memo published by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 2017, federal prisons are instructed to supply free panty liners, pads and tampons for incarcerated people. The memo is more hollow than helpful, however, stating that facilities should not increase their current expenditures to expand these resources. In addition, only 6.4 percent of incarcerated women are held in federal facilities affected by this memo, which also expires in August of this year.
Incarcerated individuals who menstruate have reported feeling humiliated by asking correction officers for period products, which are frequently used as bargaining chips because of their demand and inaccessibility. Some have even come forward about officers who would withhold menstrual products in order to teach a lesson. But refusing a basic hygienic necessity to someone is no way to do so — it’s simply inhumane and unhealthy.
By withholding menstrual products from those who need them, correctional facilities are neglecting the health of incarcerated individuals.
Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren introduced The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act in 2017, which would make menstrual products along with other healthcare products free in federal prisons, expand visitation policies and ban shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant women in federal prisons. Disappointingly, the act has not progressed since its introduction.
Because the federal government has neglected to create a permanent solution, some states have taken steps to alleviate this injustice. The Arizona Department of Corrections announced on Feb. 20 that it would provide incarcerated people who menstruate with 36 free pads or tampons per month, effective as of March 1. Originally, people were only given 12, a terribly inadequate supply. States such as Maryland, Nebraska and Virginia also introduced similar bills. In California, any inmate who menstruates, upon request, is given access and allowed to use “materials necessary” for their menstrual cycle free of charge, according to Senate Bill 1433.
We need to continue to push legislators on state and local levels to draft and pass laws that prevent correctional facilities from denying incarcerated people who menstruate basic necessities. It is unjustifiable that the needs of people who menstruate are pushed to the side, especially when these same people are unable to advocate for themselves as incarcerated individuals.
Those in prison already experience countless stressors everyday between mental health issues induced by their environment, being stripped of basic freedoms and being separated from their families. On top of this, people who menstruate may endure cramps, fatigue and other discomfort.
The last thing menstruating inmates need is to be shamed and dehumanized for an uncontrollable and natural process.