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American Bar Association Calls For Free Feminine Hygiene Products For All Incarcerated Women

The American Bar Association (ABA) is recommending free, unlimited access to feminine hygiene products for all incarcerated women.

In a resolution, the ABA says it is urging all levels of government and correctional institutions across the country to enact policies that will "provide all women prisoners in all forms of detention, both adult and juvenile, with unrestricted access, on housing units, to free toilet paper and a range of free feminine hygiene products."

Julie Abbate, the author of the resolution, calls it an issue of human dignity. “Not having access to these basic feminine hygiene products creates and perpetuates the culture of deprivation in the prisons and makes them more dependent on the whims of correctional officers and medical personnel who may or may not be sympathetic to their needs,” she said. "Meeting women's needs will keep them safe in custody as well."

Abbate says she was first alerted of the issue while working for the United States Department of Justice Special Litigation Program. "When you realize this is happening it's kind of like, 'Wait a minute, are you kidding me?'" she said.

"Women represent 200,000 of the folks that are locked up in our country and yet that's still just 10 percent of the overall prison population," Abbate said. "So women are always locked up in jails or prisons that were designed to meet the needs of men, and often times that has disastrous consequences."

Abbate says she hopes the ABA report can help alleviate security concerns at correctional institutions that may arise.

"I think the main issue that happens when women who have not had access to feminine hygiene supplies all of a sudden have access — the natural tendency is to want to hoard them," she said. While Abbate says in some instances hoarding does happen initially, if agencies communicate with their inmate populations and assure them the policy can be trusted, the women will use the resources appropriately. 

She notes that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has had a similar policy in effect since 2017, as well as several state institutions like Alabama. "There's really no reason not to supply women with unrestricted access," she said.

After Representative Athena Salman  proposed legislation one year ago that would have increased access to feminine hygiene products for women in Arizona prisons, the Department of Corrections changed their policy, tripling the amount of products given to the inmates from 12 to 36 pads or tampons each month. 

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.