Legislatures across the country enacted a wave of bipartisan-supported laws to benefit women in prison, part of an effort by the advocacy group #cut50 to ensure dignity for incarcerated women. The campaign sought legislation that would ban the shackling of pregnant women, ensure that they have contact with their children, provide menstrual hygiene products, and restrict male prison guards from areas where incarcerated women might be in a state of undress.#cut50, “Dignity for Incarcerated Women,”
Legislatures responded, as laws addressing at least some of these topics passed in California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Washington State—in some states with unanimous legislative support.California AB 2550 (2017-18) (limiting pat downs and presence of male guards in areas where incarcerated women are in a state of undress); Connecticut SB 13 (2018) (improving health care for incarcerated people who are pregnant, prohibiting shackling of pregnant people in prison, requiring provision of menstrual hygiene products, among other things); Kentucky SB 133 (2018) (requiring adequate nutrition for incarcerated people who are pregnant and an adequate supply menstrual hygiene products, and prohibiting shackling of pregnant people in prison); Louisiana SB 558 (2018) (restricting pat downs and the presence of male guards where women in prison may be in a state of undress and increasing access to menstrual hygiene products); Maryland HB 797 & SB 598 (2018) (requiring increased access to menstrual hygiene products); Oklahoma HB 3393 (2018), (restricting restraint of incarcerated people who are pregnant); and Washington HB 2016 (2017-18) (requiring midwifery and doula services for incarcerated women).
In December, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) finalized its model “Dignity for Incarcerated Women” act, which would improve health care for people incarcerated while pregnant, family visitation rights, access to menstrual hygiene products, and privacy for women in prison.American Legislative Exchange Council, “Dignity for Incarcerated Women” (model act), (2018).
In April, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed HB 83 into law, which requires jails and prisons to supply free menstrual care supplies—both pads and tampons; many states supply only pads—to incarcerated people who need them.Virginia HB 83 (2018). And Arizona’s Department of Corrections increased the supply of menstrual pads provided to incarcerated people from 12 to 36 per month.Arizona Department of Corrections, “ADC Statement on Policy Revision Involving Feminine Hygiene Products,” February 13, 2018. Also see Amy Held, “Arizona Department of Corrections Changes Sanitary Pad Policy Following Backlash,” NPR, February 15, 2018. There is no national standard requiring state corrections systems to distribute these basic items, and many states make no such provision.Erin Polka, “The Monthly Shaming of Women in State Prisons,” Public Health Post, September 4, 2018. On the federal level, the FIRST STEP Act, signed into law by President Trump in December, mandates that pads and tampons be provided to people incarcerated in federal prisons.FIRST STEP Act, § 611 (healthcare products). Also see Cady Drell, “This New Criminal Justice Bill Could Finally Give Incarcerated Women the Period Products They Need,” Marie Claire, December 19, 2018.