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Girls & Women

Women in US Federal Prisons Will Finally Receive Free Tampons

(File photo/AP)

It’s about time.

The women incarcerated in United States federal prisons will finally get a long-overdue accommodation: tampons and sanitary pads provided for them.

The US Bureau of Prisons, which runs the federal prison system, announced in an Aug. 1 memo to staff that wardens must provide two sizes of tampons, two sizes of pads with wings, and panty liners for free, according to Quartz.

Prior to the policy change, women in some prisons often had to decide whether to spend their own money on tampons and pads, make do without them, or ask prison staff for extra supplies, according to The Huffington Post.  

Global Citizen campaigns on ensuring women have equal protection and access under the law

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Andrea James, founder of the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, told the Huffington Post that when she was in federal prison, a crate of flimsy pads was stored on the bathroom floor; she learned to strip them apart to make tampons herself. Women could buy tampons from the commissary but could not afford them, she said.

“We were paid 12 cents an hour,” she said. “Women were grappling with having enough money to call their children.”

The BOP said in a statement to Quartz that it had always been the responsibility of the warden to provide the supplies by the types were “not consistent and varied by institution.”

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Nearly 13,000 women are currently incarcerated in federal prison, about 7% of the total federal prison population in the country. The ruling will not apply to state prisons, which house a much larger population of inmates than the federal system.

In a 2015 report about prisons in New York, more than half of the women interviewed said they weren’t given enough pads per month and had to apply for and show evidence — meaning used pads — that they needed more, according to the Huffington Post.  

The changes were called for in part by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, proposed last month. In addition to mandating sanitary supplies the bill would ban pregnant women from being shackled or placed in solitary confinement.

Booker told Quartz he was “encouraged” by the development, “but a policy memo is just words on a piece of paper unless it’s properly enforced. I’ll be monitoring to ensure that BOP is implementing this new policy consistently at all federal prisons.”