A new bill signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards on May 23 promises female inmates more dignity in availability of feminine hygiene products and privacy in regards to male guards.
Bill 558, named the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, offers unlimited tampons, sanitary napkins, toilet paper, soap and toothpaste to women in prisons, counteracting previous monthly limits to these products.
“For example, at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, women were issued 10 pads per month,” said Ami E. Stearns, Ph.D., a professor in criminal justice at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“This is a significant victory for incarcerated women in this state,” Stearns added. “Previously, tampons and ‘extra’ sanitary napkins were considered a luxury that must be purchased by women.”
A student at UL Lafayette, Jordan Berry, said she thought this was a good move and something she would be happy to have her tax dollars go towards.
“I think it’s a great way for people who do not get money in prison,” Berry said. “I feel like we should be paying for that in the money that our taxes go towards.”
For many of these incarcerated women, the provided amount wasn’t enough and they were forced to purchase more from the commissary or “underground markets.” These packages of additional products were often overpriced at around $8 in the commissary, according to an article on Lift Louisiana.
The high costs of the products were a difficulty for inmates, some of whom do not have the financial support from their families. So, many prisoners are forced to go without the necessary products, which can be humiliating.
“It's also unsanitary and humiliating to have blood stains on clothing and bedding,” Stearns said.
Often, women are forced to request more sanitary napkins from guards, increasing the power they already have over the prisoners.
Bill 558, in fact, looks to reverse some abuses of these guards powers by restricting when correctional officers are allowed in areas where inmates are in states of undress, including places like “restrooms, showers or medical treatment areas.”
In cases where male correctional officers are allowed, there must be a female official present or the inmate must present immediate harm to herself or others. Cavity searches are also to be conducted by female correctional officers, but when a male correctional officer must conduct a search, they are required to provide documentation on the incident with an explanation of why they acted without prior notice.
“Any legislation prohibiting this from occurring is a step in the right direction,” Stearns said. “The majority of incarcerated females nationwide have histories of trauma that include sexual and/or physical abuse by males, so being subjected to any type of cavity examination by a non-medical, male person can wreak havoc upon the mental state of an imprisoned woman.”
In fact, according to Salon.com, 86 percent of women who have been incarcerated have been sexually assaulted in their lives.
“Women are the fastest growing population in United States prisons,” Carole Leonard of Prison Reform Movement said. “And the conditions in which many of these women are housed and the treatment they receive is shocking.”
The bill passed through the House, Senate and all committees unanimously and with no opposition. It will take effect Aug.1.