Federal Prisons: Raising The Standards For Menstruators

by Addi Tomlinson

Dignity is often something left to be desired in federal prison. The simplest of feminine resources, tampons and pads, are scarce for the majority of the population of incarcerated women. Adding to this, the population of women inmates in general is steadily on the rise. Fortunately there has been some movement to change the circumstances surrounding the availability of these resources. As of August, the United States government will offer an unlimited amount of free menstrual products to women in prison.

Women’s rights advocates led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), Senator Cory Booker (NJ), and Senator Kamala D. Harris (CA) set a policy change in motion that enforces the U.S. Government to begin offering free menstrual cycle products to federal inmates. This change is one part of a broader service that is working to boost basic rights for women inmates.

Prior to this policy there was a broad statement that “products for female hygiene needs shall be available.” But the where and how of products made available were questions left unanswered. In short, having a period in prison is a demoralizing, humiliating and unhealthy and event. If a woman needed more pads than were allotted, guards made the decision in regards to providing additional supplies. A woman could purchase more only if she could afford it but the control of these situations were discerned by the authority. This unequivocal power seems to only further the overarching lack of control women have over their bodies in prison.


While disheartening, there truly seems to be positive efforts being made by government officials and women’s rights activists.

And let us also not forget the grassroots activists who are pursuing efforts to erase the stigma regarding menstruation, feminine hygiene products, and other topics related to female reproductivity. Many believe that menstrual products should be free for all women like toilet paper or hand soap is free in public restrooms. The necessity is there but the ideas surrounding the different products are often skewed by the general opinion that talking about periods is “gross.”

Justin Long, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, says that “the new policy aims to improve consistency in the selection of products available free in the federal prison system.” The revisions also state that incarcerated women will be able to choose between two different sizes of pads and panty liners.

This is a major step in the right direction not only for incarcerated women but for the general population’s education on the importance of normalization of periods. With an increasing number of lawmakers introducing bills which make pads and tampons free at public schools and workplaces, it is hopeful that the even the sight of menstrual hygiene products can help to chip away at the current stigmatic experience.

Addi Tomlinson was drawn to maternal and infant health care after shadowing an OBGYN and a nurse midwife during her time as an undergrad pre-med student. After completing a Bachelors in English Literature at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, NY she completed a doula and childbirth education training. This training encouraged her to pursue research on out of hospital birth, home birth, and what those experiences could look like. She worked as a doula, nanny, and freelance write for two years in NYC before deciding that the midwifery path was the clear next step. Addi was accepted into the Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery program in San Diego, California, where she is currently enrolled and will graduate from in 2019. 

Photo by Robert Hickerson

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.