Federal prisons are finally required to provide women inmates with free tampons and pads

A small, but meaningful change.
A small, but meaningful change.
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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The US government will have to ensure that the women it incarcerates have access to free tampons and sanitary pads, a development that is long overdue.

According to an Aug. 1 policy memo from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which oversees federal facilities, wardens must ensure that inmates have access to two sizes of tampons, two sizes of sanitary pads with wings, and panty liners free of charge. It’s the first time the agency has made this policy explicit.

A spokesman for the BOP told Quartz that wardens always had the responsibility to provide these products, but that their types were “not consistent and varied by institution.” He said the revised policy “has been in the works for some time.”

Female inmates make up only 6.8% of the federal prison population, which is only about 13% of the entire prison population of the US. Still, if wardens follow the directive, that’s nearly 13,000 women who now won’t have to worry about being denied these basic products, rationing them, or spending limited resources on buying them from prison commissaries. Lack of access to free, quality feminine hygiene products is a longstanding problem in the US criminal- justice system, where women are one of the fastest-growing populations.

New Jersey senator Cory Booker, who along with Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and others proposed last month the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, legislation that includes ensuring free tampons and pads in federal prisons, said in a statement to Quartz that he was “encouraged” by the development: “But a policy memo is just words on a piece of paper unless it’s properly enforced. I’ll be monitoring to ensure that BOP is implementing this new policy consistently at all federal prisons.”