I recently read about the New York State Assembly sponsored bill A588A, which is a bill related to providing feminine hygiene products at no cost to individuals in correctional facilities. Incarcerated women in Federal prisons no longer have to pay for feminine hygiene products, so why should our sisters in state prisons be responsible for basic products that they need?
I have read several articles about the expense of tampons and Maxi Pads in state prisons, as well as the ways in which guards have free reign to distribute products according to their own individual preferences. The markup on basic products at the commissary is astronomical, and for far too many families, putting money into their loved ones’ accounts each month is a serious financial burden. To think that our prison system does not provide feminine products goes against human decency and self-dignity. Many women have reported not wanting to receive visitors or their lawyers when on their periods because of excessive bleeding and utter embarrassment. No matter the reason someone is incarcerated, in a democracy, they should not be forced to sit in their monthly menstrual cycle because of the expense or draconian policies surrounding distributing hygiene products.
What initially drew me to this important legislation was my knowledge of fibroids in the African-American community. Several medical studies have shown that Black women are disproportionately affected by fibroids, which not only can be incredibly painful but also can cause excessive bleeding during the menstrual cycle. If our state prisons are limiting hygiene products to women with natural monthly cycles, I shudder to think of the stresses experienced each month by women who have multiple fibroids and above average menstrual flows each month and are in desperate need of multiple Maxi Pads and tampons each day.
I implore each of us to contact our state senators in Albany and demand they pass this humane bill. The bill has already passed the State Assembly and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Hopefully the bill will pass both houses and be eligible for signature by Gov. Cuomo. We cannot assume our legislators or our governor will see this bill as imperative because Albany remains a place where horse trading and dubious legislation seem to be rampant. New York is a diverse but at times conservative state. Therefore, utilize your voice and participate in your civic rights to bring dignity to women across the state who are currently away from their families for a host of reasons. You can find out who your state senator is at www.nysenate.gov. There are widely diverse opinions on the criminal justice system, but hopefully we can agree that a woman’s basic need for hygiene products extends beyond racial, class and partisan differences.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is the 2018 NYU McSilver Institute Fellow and an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of The Aftermath on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.