Human Rights

Women in Arizona Prisons Are Having Trouble Getting Menstrual Products, and Republicans Refuse to Help

Inmates complain of "bloodstained pants, bartering and begging for pads and tampons."

Photo Credit: Sutham / Shutterstock

During a hearing earlier this month, following calls from the local branch of the ACLU, formerly incarcerated women and their elected officials lobbied the Arizona Legislature to pass a bill that would make sanitary pads and tampons available to incarcerated women.

"In our prison system, a 16-count of Always ultra-thin, long pads cost $3.20," said Rep. Athena Salman, who introduced the legislation.

In Arizona, inmates are paid 15 cents per hour for their labor. At that rate, a woman prisoner would have to work 21 hours to afford a pack of pads. "Bloodstained pants, bartering and begging for pads and tampons was a regular occurrence," said Adrienne Kitcheyan, who was incarcerated in an Arizona prison for six years.

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USA Today has said that additional menstrual pads requested by the prisoners are technically free, but some formerly incarcerated women have said this isn’t the reality of life in prison.

"Kitcheyan said if blood stained a prisoner's pants, she would be given a ticket for being out of dress code, which could result in her losing visitation rights, phone calls and the ability to purchase store items — including tampons and pads.

"Sue Ellen Allen, who served seven years in Perryville, said officers can and do deny requests for more pads. 'The humiliation is really something you carry with you forever,' she said."

If you thought Arizona’s state congresspeople would eagerly support legislation providing basic health and hygiene products for women, you'd be wrong. The bill narrowly passed in the all-male House Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee, but four male Republicans successfully voted it down, offering an outlandishly offensive justification for their decision.

"Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said giving prisoners more feminine-hygiene products would likely result in 'a lot of frivolous actions.'

"Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, expressed concerns that inmates 'wanting to cause trouble' or who 'have some sort of mental issue' could ask for 10 items a day just to 'flush them down a toilet or stuff them in a pipe to just vandalize the cell.'"

Rep. Jay Lawrence, the committee chairman, also voted against the proposal to make menstrual products available. "I’m almost sorry I heard the bill," he said. "I didn’t expect to hear pads and tampons and the problems of periods."

H/T: USA Today

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Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.