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Excerpted From: Milea Moye, Female Inmates and Access to Feminine Hygiene Products, 29 Annals of Health Law Advance Directive 177 (Fall, 2020) (76 Footnotes) (Full Document)
Female prisoners are the fastest-growing demographic within the United States' incarcerated population “as it has risen by 700% since 1980.” The rapid growth in the female population brought challenges that do not exist within male incarcerated populations, such as access to feminine hygiene products. Courts have previously acknowledged that there are different grooming requirements for male and female inmates, yet with this acknowledgment, there have been issues with female inmates accessing adequate supplies of feminine sanitary supplies. Considering that many of the incarcerated women are of reproductive age, there is room for improvement within state and federal legislation to correct this issue.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) review of correctional facilities revealed that female inmates' access to the necessary quantity of sanitary napkins varied by institution. This review focused on the availability and quantity of free sanitary napkins provided by prisons. This review adds to the growing literature that indicates that female prisoners should be provided with adequate access to feminine sanitary supplies at no cost to them.
This paper argues that access to feminine hygiene products is a basic right that female inmates have historically been deprived of, and therefore, legislation needs to be enacted to ensure that female inmates have access to feminine sanitary supplies. This article will delve into the lack of access that female prisoners experience in accessing the quantity of menstrual supplies required for their basic hygienic needs, as well as, the lack of access to quality supplies and basic options in menstrual products that address biological differences. Next, the paper will examine some of the barriers that currently prevent women from accessing the needed supplies such as prohibitive pricing of menstrual products. This paper will then discuss some of the ways in which the health of incarcerated women has been negatively impacted by the lack of basic feminine hygiene products. Finally, I will discuss some of the legislative barriers that have prevented all 50 states from implementing laws at the state level to provide access.
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The United States is behind the curve when compared to other countries who have implemented policies in favor of providing female prisoners with consistent and adequate access to feminine hygiene products. Lack of legislature in certain states combined with vague language in current policies create gaps that allow for the needs of female prisoners to be unmet. While state level Dignity Acts are helpful to women in the prison system, incarcerated women are still vulnerable to the barriers that prevent the necessary access to feminine hygiene products. The Dignity Act has been helpful in bringing this issue to the forefront and giving women a voice. While changes have been made in certain areas, the vagueness in the language that creates some of these laws keeps any measurable improvements from being made. When the rules can be left up to the interpretation of those with the power to enforce said rules, there is little chance of uniformity from state to state or within the states themselves. Incarcerated women have been embarrassed, humiliated, and made to live their incarcerated lives in shame while on their periods. State and federal legislators need to enact the necessary legislature to allow female inmates access to feminine hygiene products at no cost and allow them to maintain their both their health and dignity.
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