Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Women in jails and prisons should be afforded some basic human dignity..."

A seemingly obvious statement, but one a Michigan defense attorney must've felt compelled to tell Vice.com's Annamarya Scaccia for this must-read piece on the shameful shortage of feminine hygiene products at many correctional facilities. Scaccia writes:

DownloadFor women incarcerated in America's prison industrial complex, practicing proper menstrual hygiene is almost impossible. That's because, criminal justice advocates say, inmates are supplied with an inadequate amount of pads or denied feminine hygiene products altogether...


Former Rikers Island inmates have told [one advocate] that jail guards are "consistently inconsistent" with giving incarcerated women access to menstrual products. Sometimes it's because they're not enough of pads to go around. Most times, however, it's because guards want to punish an inmate and reinforce the power structure by denying access—an abuse of power advocates say is rampant across all prison systems.


Inmates could buy tampons, pads and other feminine hygiene products at a facility's commissary. But for the 72 percent of female inmates living in poverty, that's unaffordable. So they're left to ask for more pads from the very people who deny them in the first place, advocates say. And, Miller says, former inmates in New York City have reported being forced to show their soiled pads to their guard just to prove they needed more supplies. Women incarcerated in New York State's prison system have reported much the same...


A 2015 Correctional Association of New York report found that state prison inmates, who receive 24 pads per month, would stretch out their supply for the duration of their period—sometimes using one for the week. Other women said they would double up on pads during heavy days because the pads they would receive are too thin and barely absorbent. The ACLU of Michigan filed a federal class action lawsuit in December 2014 against Muskegon County for "inhumane and degrading policies" on behalf of inmates who reported similar experiences.


These coping practices lead to poor menstrual hygiene, advocates say. And poor menstrual health, research shows, can lead to serious infections like bacterial growth in the vagina or toxic shock syndrome.

In New York City, local lawmakers recently introduced legislation that would require corrections officers to "provide pads immediately upon request." But, some question whether that will make a meaningful difference. 

Existing case law reinforces a prisoner's constitutional right to basic cleanliness. Judges in 1989's Carver v. Knox County, Tennessee, 1997's Carty v. Farrelly and 2005's Atkins v. County of Orange all ruled that failing to provide or denying access to sanitary items violates the Eight Amendment, which enshrines a prisoner's right to a "basic human need"—i.e. toilet paper and menstrual products—in its Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.


But correctional officers continue to violate the law because they're not punished when they do so, says David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project. That lack of accountability—among other reasons—has allowed the problem to become rampant and systemic.


So while legislative efforts are commendable, he says, a mechanism needs to be in place that appropriately reprimands staff for violating the law—and a prisoner's civil rights. "There has to be accountability and consequences," says Fathi.


Prisons and Prisoners | Permalink


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