‘Pads And Tampons And The Problems With Periods:' All-Male Committee Hears Arizona Bill On Feminine Hygiene Products In Prison

By Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Monday, February 5, 2018 - 9:55pm
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 12:04pm

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Athena Salman
Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
Athena Salman

A sensitive women’s health issue came before the Committee on Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs on Monday: the price of pads and tampons in Arizona prisons. Not all the committee members were comfortable with the idea.

“In our prison system,” Rep. Athena Salman said, addressing nine of her male colleagues, “a 16-count of Always ultra-thin, long pads cost $3.20.”

“Rep. Salman, Can you keep your conversation to the bill itself? Please?” Rep. Jay Lawrence interrupted.

“Yes, Mr. Chairman,” Salman replied, and she went right on talking about tampons and pads. That was, after all, what House Bill 2222 — the bill she sponsored — is about.

RELATED: On The Inside: The Chaos Of Arizona Prison Health Care

12 Pads Per Month

Under current policy, women in Arizona prisons get 12 pads a month for their menstrual cycle. Additional pads cost more money. So do tampons. Salman’s bill would allocate $80,000 annually to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) from the state general fund so that all women in state prisons have access to free, unlimited, feminine hygiene products.

It was unclear why Salman’s bill was assigned to Lawrence’s committee, but he wasn’t happy about it.

“I’m almost sorry I heard the bill,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t expect to hear pads and tampons and the problems of periods.”

The men on the committee heard other words too. Words like “menstruate” and “heavy flow.”

former inmate
(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
A former inmate speaks of the difficulties women face behind bars in Arizona prisons.

'Just A Female That Menstruates'

“I am just a female that menstruates,” said Jennifer Jermaine of Chandler, who came to speak in favor of the bill. She thought the current allotment of pads for prisoners was equivalent to a human-rights violation. “I know what my personal usage is, and I know that 12 items would get me through about two days.”

Mickey Tucker of Scottsdale spoke in favor of the bill because she said the all-male committee needed to hear a woman’s perspective.

“Some people have really heavy periods. Men don’t want to hear this,” Tucker chuckled, “but some have very heavy periods and leak all over their clothes when they don’t have enough tampons or pads.”

Tucker said she thinks charging women for the hygiene products is wrong.

When asked if she had a personal connection to the issue addressed in the bill, Tucker said she is human.

“You don’t humiliate women like that,” she said. “You don’t treat people like that.”

A Humiliating Process

Sue Ellen Allen said she knows that feeling of humiliation well. Formerly incarcerated and now running a prison reform group called Reinventing Reentry, Allen said she would have to ask guards for additional toilet paper while she was at the Perryville prison.

“Being there and going through this is untenable and unconscionable,” she said. “And it affects you for the long term.”

Allen said this bill would recognize and eliminate the humiliation women go through to get hygiene products.

Molly Nygren sat in the committee audience with her baby daughter, Ellie, strapped to her chest. She said as a nurse she has treated incarcerated women who have not had access to tampons.

Molly Nygren
(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
Molly Nygren and her daughter, Ellie, attended the hearing in support of the bill. Nygren is a nurse who has worked with incarcerated women.

“They take multiple maxi pads and they would twist them and make a tampon out of it. That can increase bacteria and cause toxic shock syndrome, and I think that they shouldn’t have to do that,” Nygren said.

Tuesday Brauer-Rocha was incarcerated in an Arizona prison for eight years. She said the quality of the products currently issued is very low.

“It’s definitely not something that can protect clothing or keep you from having an accident,” Brauer-Rocha said. She said basically they’re really cheap and thin — and lots of inmates are very active — working long hours like she did on a landscaping crew.

“The normal sanitary napkin has a plastic layer on the bottom of it. This is more like two mesh pieces with cotton in between and two adhesive strips so there’s nothing keeping it from going all the way through,” Brauer-Rocha said.

“Something crazy happens when you start treating people like people: They start acting like it.”
— Former Arizona Department of Corrections inmate

Another former inmate spoke saying the bill would be good for the morale and attitudes of women behind bars.

“Something crazy happens when you start treating people like people: They start acting like it,” the former inmate said.

The Arizona Department of Corrections is neutral on the bill. Perryville Women’s Prison Warden Kim Currier told the committee that she was unaware access to feminine hygiene products was an issue at her facility.

However, several inmates from Perryville have communicated with KJZZ, complaining of lack of access to pads and tampons. Inmate Angela Ashworth wrote that the situation was causing harm to the inmates’ physical and mental states at the Perryville facility.

“You start to feel worthless if you didn’t already,” Ashworth wrote of the impact of poor sanitary conditions.

She said inmates try to help other inmates who can’t afford extra pads, but the situation takes a toll.

“Then they send her back out, lower than she was, instead of teaching her self-esteem and giving her counseling,” Ashworth said of the women she has seen released from prison.

Shedding Light On A Serious Issue

Chairman Lawrence said he thought that most of the people committed to the Arizona Department of Corrections are liars.

Kirstin Eidenbach, a lawyer representing inmates in the Parsons v. Ryan prison health care settlement, responded to Lawrence when he asked if she thought access to feminine hygiene products was “a real issue.”

“Yes, Mr. Chairman, it most certainly is,” Eidenbach responded.

She has personally interviewed hundreds of inmates in Arizona prisons and made several visits to the Perryville. She said the lack of access to feminine hygiene products is an ongoing and prevalent issue.

“I think this is another example of the Arizona Department of Corrections using abuse as an excuse to deprive people in its custody of basic human necessities,” Eidenbach said.

While Warden Currier told the committee she was aware of instances where pads had been used to block windows and cameras or bartered and traded, they were very rare. Eidenbach said ADC’s own policies have led to the products being used inappropriately.

An Environment Of Scarcity

“They are creating an environment of scarcity,” Eidenbach said. “And so if there is an unlimited supply of these sanitary napkins, they’re not going to be able to be used for bartering, and so the abuses associated with that kind of behavior would go away.”

Warden Currier told the committee ADC had spent $33,207.01 on feminine hygiene products at the Perryville prison so far in fiscal year 2017.

Salman said she based the $80,000 estimate on numbers from Colorado. She says she crafted the bill after working with Rep. Leslie Herod from Colorado, who had secured $40,000 a year for unlimited pads and tampons for their inmates.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a memorandum on feminine hygiene products in August 2017, compelling wardens in the federal system to issue women tampons, pads and panty liners at no cost to inmates.

Bill Author Happy To Shed Light On Women's Health Issues

Several members of the committee expressed concerns that the unlimited clause in Salman’s bill would lead to increased costs. Salman said she is open to negotiating on the numbers and the language, but was happy that the committee was open to shedding light on women’s health issues.

"I can’t imagine something more uncomfortable than not having the menstrual products you need for your period,” she said. “So my heart goes out to these women.”

The bill passed the committee 5-4.

Matthew Specht, director of communications for the Arizona House of Representatives majority staff, said House Speaker J.D. Mesnard isn't ready to comment on the bill.

"Given that they have jurisdiction over regulatory affairs, Speaker Mesnard has sent legislation regarding Department of Corrections regulations to the House Military, Veterans, and Regulatory Affairs Committee. Speaker Mesnard is going to hold off on commenting on HB 2222 for now," Specht said.

Speaker Mesnard has not said whether the bill would be called to the floor for a vote. An amendment to the bill that would have required ADC to provide unlimited toilet paper failed in committee.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the spelling of Jennifer Jermaine's name.

Arizona Prisons