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Prisons are still charging female inmates for having their periods

Two and a half months after guaranteeing free feminine hygiene products for female inmates, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is still making women pay for tampons, pads, and panty liners.

Every woman in federal custody is guaranteed tampons, pads, and panty liners free of charge, according to a new policy established Aug. 1, 2017. But female inmates and advocates tell VICE News that facilities across the country are still not complying.


The new policy came in August after Democratic senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala D. Harris of California, and Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced a bill called the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act in July that would require free hygiene products for women.

That bill never went anywhere, but in a rare move, the Bureau of Prisons issued its policy memo three weeks later.

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“Wardens will ensure inmates are provided the following products (at no cost to the inmates): tampons (regular and super size), maxi pads with wings (regular and super size), and panty liners (regular),” the memo reads.

But the changes promised in the policy aren’t being implemented in several prisons.

The federal facility in Aliceville, Alabama, that holds nearly 1,500 female inmates is still charging women for panty liners, a female inmate told VICE News on condition of anonymity.

“There are panty liners in our commissary for purchase; however, I have never seen panty liners provided free of charge,” she said.

A federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota, that houses more than 700 inmates is still charging women for tampons and panty liners, according to an inmate who also asked to remain anonymous to avoid reprisals.

“Tampons are available on commissary to buy and I’ve seen people use pads to make [tampons],” she said.

A female federal inmate in downtown Miami and another in Fort Worth, Texas, confirmed to VICE News that those prisons are not complying with the policy either.


Watch: Women Unshackled conference addresses women in U.S. prisons

Inmates at another eight federal prisons in West Virginia, Texas, Florida, Illinois, California, and Arizona reported they are still having to pay for feminine hygiene products, according to the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the CAN-DO Foundation.

Amy Povah, director of the CAN-DO Foundation and a former federal inmate herself, said these products are incredibly expensive for inmates who have extremely low-paying prison jobs — around $8 per box.

“Tampons is an unbelievable luxury that most women can’t buy,” she said. “Tampons, pads, panty liners for menstruation cycle — that should be something that’s a basic function that everyone is provided with, like toilet paper.”

The Bureau of Prisons and 11 of the facilities identified as not in compliance did not respond to repeated requests for comment Friday. A spokesperson for the federal prison in Phoenix, Arizona said they have purchased the products and are preparing to make them available.

“This is unacceptable,” said Sen. Booker in a statement to VICE News. “As I said back in August when the Bureau of Prisons issued its memo, these guidelines are simply words on a piece of paper unless they’re followed by concrete action. It seems the Bureau of Prisons is not properly implementing these guidelines across all prisons and I plan to follow up with them directly to get an answer why.”