Women's prisons control bad girls with tampon reward system



The New York Times spilled a goodly amount of ink talking about a very pressing issue: how tampons are used to reward women prisoners who are well behaved.

Each level of incarceration in New York has a different policy (or no policy) related to menstruation.

The Times is bothered by the fact that prisons don't have a uniform menstruation policy.

...in the state’s prisons and jails, these women and advocates say, inconsistent access to tampons and pads has less to do with stock and more to do with power. The facilities have enough supplies, but they are not available equally to all the women who need them.

If we can't rectify the inequality of tampon distribution inside of state prisons, where can we deal with it? Should Elizabeth Warren look into this prison menstruation problem?

BettyAnn Whaley, 56, who was released from Rikers last June and now lives in the North Bronx, said pads were accessible “seven out of 10 times,” though they were a flimsy version of what you might buy at a store. Tampons were harder to get. Name-brand tampons are available at the jail commissary for about $4 a box, though some women can’t afford them.

Prisoners don't like the quality of sanitary pads in prison! This is a surprise. And many do not have $4 to buy more. Can't they work in the woodworking shop for 50 cents an hour and buy some more?

At Rikers, women said tampons were valuable enough that they could be traded for a bag of chips or a pack of coffee.

That's probably not the only things they traded them for.

Lacking menstrual supplies can also disrupt an incarcerated woman’s rehabilitation. Andrea Nieves, a Brooklyn public defender, testified last year before a New York City Council committee looking into the availability of feminine hygiene products in jails that a client at Rikers asked her social worker not to visit while the client was menstruating, afraid that she would bleed through her uniform and be ashamed.

Ok, I think this is a stretch. Are more women not out on parole because they don't have tampons?

“They were only given to certain housing units,” [an ex-con] said in an interview after her release. And even then, she added, “they were only dispensed to certain individuals — you had to be sort of chummy-chummy in order to receive them.”

Chandra Bozelko, a writer and advocate... who is an adviser for a book about the politics of periods... who was incarcerated at a state prison in Connecticut....

What is Connecticut doing imprisoning someone with the equivalent of a Ph.D. in political menstruation?

...said menstrual supplies were indeed used as tools of control. Officers sometimes tried to teach women a lesson by limiting access, affecting self-esteem as well as basic hygiene.

So now we get to the nub of the tampon issue.

Some prisons are giving out tampons only to well-behaved prisoners. If you've ever been in a women's prison, or even seen "Orange is the New Black", you know all the kinds of trouble that hardened girls can get into in an all-girls prison. They take drugs. They knife each other. They make love to each other like they're freshmen at Wellesley.

Prisons can discipline bad behaving prisoners with solitary confinement, but that is harsh. I think people who are committed to a softer application of penology would agree that rewards are better used in behavior modification than punishments, the carrot better than the stick. In this case, tampons are the carrots.

For thousands of years women used pieces of cloth to deal with their periods. Women, even in prison, can still do that. If it was good enough for our ancestors, it is good enough for them. There is no right to tampons in the US Constitution, not even in the abortion clause or the gay marriage clause.

Using tampons as a treat or reward for good behavior is not only not a human rights abuse, it represents a better way to go for the entire penal system.



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