Arizona Introduces Legislation to Achieve Menstrual Equity in Prisons

Jail Scene

Arizona is preparing to introduce a bill to make it mandatory for all state prisons to have free and unlimited access to menstrual products. Arizona House Bill 2222 (Bill 2222) had its first hearing in front of a legislative committee last week. Bill 2222 was narrowly passed by the Committee on Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs on a vote by 5 to 4.

Rep. Athena Salman sponsored Bill 2222 to the Arizona House to ensure menstrual equity for female inmates in Arizona state prisons. Under current policy, the inmates get 12 pads a month and must ask for any additional pads. If they would rather use tampons, they must purchase them out of pocket.

As Rep. Salman stated, “a 16-count of Always ultra-thin, long pads cost $3.20.” Inmates get paid $0.15 an hour. A pack of pads would require about 21 hours of work. Tampons can cost up to 27 hours of work. Bill 2222 proposes to allocate $80, 000 to the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) per year so that female inmates can have access to free and unrestricted menstrual products.

The committee, which is completely made up of cisgender men, heard testimony from previous inmates that described the abysmal state of menstrual equity rights in Arizona prisons. One even called the current policy the “equivalent of a human-rights violation.” According to the ACLU, women have reported waking up in soiled clothes and sheets without being allowed to bathe or access new bedding. A woman even described bleeding for 6 weeks as a result of giving birth but only being given half a box of pads.

Menstrual equity, a term coined by advocate and lawyer Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, describes “fairness for how women are treated in society because they menstruate.” The movement aims to lessen the stigma around menstruation and ensure that people who menstruate don’t have to pay more for needing a medically necessary item. This movement is also being reflected in the legal field, as activists struggle to achieve equitable access to menstrual products.

As of 2017, 7 states already exempt menstrual products from sales tax, while many more have already introduced legislation to do so. In the same year, New York City passed a landmark law which made menstrual products available in prisons, as well as in public schools and shelters. The United States is seeing the progression of a growing menstrual equity movement for female inmates. This movement is fighting back against the notion that menstrual needs are a privilege when they are, in fact, a right.

Despite this, champions of menstrual equity still have to face tremendous hurdles along the way. During the committee hearing, when Rep. Salman attempted to explain the unavailability of menstrual products to the Committee on Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs, she was asked to “keep [her] conversation to the bill itself.”

Many committee members were doubtful that a problem even existed. The chair of the committee, Jay Lawrence, was quoted saying, “I’m almost sorry I heard the bill… I didn’t expect to hear pads and tampons and the problems of the periods.” Clearly, there is a long way to go before menstrual equity gets recognized as a right in a legal and political realm dominated by men.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC.