I won’t be the first to say it, and I definitely won’t be the last, but getting your period sucks. For incarcerated women, menstruation is made all the more difficult by roadblocks they must overcome to gain access to feminine hygiene products. In response to this struggle, Maine state Representative Charlotte Warren of Hallowell proposed a bill to require free access to feminine hygiene products for inmates. On March 15, the Maine Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held a hearing, and during discussion about Warren’s bill, Republican Rep. Richard Pickett opposed the bill because it would make jails and prisons too much like “country clubs.”
According to a tweet from a reporter present, Pickett said, “Quite frankly, and I don’t mean this in any disrespect, the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club.” He continued to say that if inmates did not have menstrual products already, he would support the bill but because they do, he won’t. Rep. Pickett has missed the point though. Although federal prisons in the U.S. are required to provide women with free pads and tampons, those same policies don’t exist for state and county jails, where most incarcerated women are housed. Warren’s bill would provide unrestricted access to these products across the board in Maine.
Supporters of the bill pushed back against Rep. Pickett. As reported by the Beacon, Whitney Parrish, director of policy and program for the Maine Women’s Lobby, gave the committee a glimpse into the life of incarcerated women during menstruation: “You’re given a limited supply of menstrual products per month, often of low quality due to cost saving, and when you run out, you’re out…You may have no money to go to commissary, and if you do, you may have to weigh that purchase against other necessities, like making phone calls to your children or attorney. You are forced to make the impossible decision of constructing your own menstrual products, using anything from clothing or notebook paper in place of a tampon.”
Unfortunately, Parrish’s statement does not give the full extent of the hardships inmates face while on their period. Women’s Health published an account from a prison reform advocate and former inmate in which she described that she’s “heard of women using notebook paper, and even dirty ‘shower sheets,’ which were the little cut-up squares of old sheets everyone stood on on the bathroom floor after getting out of the shower” when they did not have access to feminine products.
Tampons and pads are by no means a luxury. Without them, women risk serious health consequences monthly and bills like Warren’s which provide basic necessities to women will not turn prisons into “country clubs” as Pickett stated. Fortunately, the bill passed in the committee 6-4 but is not yet law. Here’s hoping the U.S. can further educate itself on women’s health and continue making steps for the betterment of women.