A bill introduced to the General Assembly this week would help incarcerated women access more and higher-quality menstrual hygiene products, the lack of which advocates say is a frequent problem in Maryland prisons.
Senate Bill 598 would require Maryland prisons and jails to provide quality sanitary pads and tampons to female inmates on demand and without cost. The bill has bipartisan support from 33 state senators, including Susan Lee (D-Montgomery) and Michael Hough (R-District 4).
“Menstrual hygiene products should not be considered a luxury, and Maryland must do more to prevent dehumanizing situations where women inmates don’t have sanitary necessities,” Lee, who is chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement Tuesday.
The Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup houses an average of 857 women every day. More women are serving shorter terms and awaiting trial in local facilities such as the Frederick County Adult Detention Center.
“Maryland regulations state that inmates and detainees are entitled to menstrual hygiene products, but they do not require that such products be provided affordably or in adequate quantities,” according to a statement from Reproductive Justice Inside, a coalition of more than a dozen Maryland groups.
Reproductive Justice Inside organizes sanitary pad drives and donates thousands of pads for use by incarcerated women.
The coalition hosted a series of forums on incarcerated women’s health care, including a Jan. 3 event at Frederick’s C. Burr Artz Public Library. Women shared their experiences in Maryland prison receiving only two low-quality sanitary pads per month. Women can purchase more pads if they have money earned in prison jobs or from their families.
“It’s honestly mind-blowing to me and to thousands of people that females in our state and local systems are literally going without sanitary products,” Thurmont resident Julie Magers said at the event. Magers is president of Justice and Recovery Advocates, a support group for families of inmates and released offenders.
“These individuals are supposed to be in the care, control and custody of the state, and in far too many cases this care is either barbaric or nonexistent,” Magers said.
Kimberly Haven, a former inmate and Maryland prisoners’ rights advocate with the Women’s Justice Consortium, told her story of contracting septic shock after using an improvised tampon.
“When you’re incarcerated, [menstruation] is the last thing you want to deal with,” Haven said at the forum. “You’re given these little pads that are nothing more than Band-Aids. ... They may give you two and you’ll supplement that with your own little pads made out of toilet paper.”
The proposed law would require each correctional facility to have a policy of providing free menstrual hygiene products upon request from inmates. Facilities would also be required to establish standards for proper disposal of the hygiene products.
The law would also require the Maryland Commission on Correctional Standards to monitor the availability of hygiene products in state, local and private correctional facilities.
The bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. A committee hearing on the bill is scheduled for 1 p.m. Feb. 13.