The Federal Bureau of Prisons made an important adjustment this month requiring that female prisoners have more access to tampons and pads, according to an August 1 Bureau of Prisons (BOP) memo. Feminine hygiene products were already available for free in federal prisons, though the type of products varied by institution, according to the BOP. But the new memo requires that facilities now offer a variety of products, including two sizes of tampons, two sizes of pads, and panty liners.
The change came a month after Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill in July aimed at guaranteeing prisoners sufficient access to tampons and pads, among other protections. If signed into law, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act would also ensure women behind bars aren't shackled or put in solitary confinement while pregnant, charged for phone calls, or kept from contacting their families.
If properly enforced, the BOP's policy shift will make it easier for female prisoners to access the products they need while on their period, but Sen. Booker doesn't plan to stop fighting for the other reforms outlined in the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.
"I’m encouraged that the Bureau of Prisons is finally explicitly requiring these healthcare products be provided free of charge to incarcerated women at all BOP facilities. But a policy memo is just words on a piece of paper unless it’s properly enforced," Sen. Booker told Refinery29. "I’ll be monitoring to ensure that BOP is implementing this new policy consistently at all federal prisons. I’ll also be working to advance other important reforms included in the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act."
Local legislators such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have mandated that female inmates be given tampons and pads when needed, but there's currently no federal law solidifying women's right to the products while behind bars. Rather, BOP policy dictates access to hygiene products at federal prisons, and without overarching legislation, it tends to vary from prison to prison. With the number of women in U.S. prisons and jails increasing more than 700% since 1980, it's becoming even more vital that female-specific problems be addressed in Federal Prison Bureau policies.
This story has been updated after receiving comment from the BOP.