Arizona prisons have a problem with periods. With the women’s prison population doubling over the past 20 years, the Department of Corrections still has not figured out that people who menstruate need adequate access to pads and tampons. On June 29th, the reversal of this unjust practice began when Governor Ducey signed SB1849 into law. Thanks to bipartisan support from advocates, organizations, and elected officials, women in Arizona prisons will now receive the treatment they deserve.
The first time I served time in prison was at the Perryville Women’s Prison. I was going through the intake process which can take weeks. I was in a two-person cell with no A/C and very few hygiene products in the middle of September. We also lacked access to clean clothes. We were stuck with one shirt, one pair of underwear, one pair of socks, and a jumpsuit. We were given one pack of ten feminine hygiene pads to last us the entire month. Anyone who menstruates knows that ten of the cheapest made pads wouldn’t last some people one day, let alone an entire menstrual cycle.
The woman in the cell next to mine was on her period and had borrowed extra pads from other women but it wasn’t enough. She had bled on her jumpsuit, but she was still required to wear this blood-stained jumpsuit to the chow hall in front of everyone. I could feel her shame. I wanted to scream at the officers that she didn’t deserve this. My heart physically hurt and my body noticeably tensed. The memory still boils my blood. All people deserve basic human dignity, regardless of their mistakes.
SB 1849 will require the Arizona Department of Corrections to provide more tampons and pads to people free of charge. You read that right: even though taxpayers give DOC $1.1 billion dollars a year to operate, incarcerated people have been forced to buy their own hygiene products. Those who can’t afford to pay often offer services in exchange for tampons from those who can afford them, like cleaning shoes or rolling cigarettes. No one deserves to live like that.
Arizona has also long mistreated pregnancy in prison. This new law will address that by forbidding corrections officers from shackling people at any point in their pregnancy. It also allows a mother who gives birth in prison to spend more time bonding with their baby before the baby is taken away. Arizona’s belief that long sentences and harsh prison conditions are the answers to all of society’s problems is wrong, and the data proves it. Incarcerating people at such high rates hurts our communities and tears apart families. To deny people basic human respect during their incarceration makes it more difficult for them to return home one day.
In 2021 alone we have seen related legislation to restore dignity to incarcerated women pass in Missouri and Mississippi, and get introduced in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. All of these states have bipartisan support and are backed by organizations on both sides, from the American Conservative Union to the ACLU. By signing this bill, Governor Ducey joins states across the country in turning the page on a painful chapter of history and taking a step forward for justice.
The Dignity Act could not have happened without the support of advocates, incarcerated folks and their loved ones. As we close the book on this year's legislative session and celebrate this remarkable win, we will remain vigilant and ensure that the Department of Corrections abides to this new law.
If you or a loved one are experiencing a problem with the conditions inside an Arizona jail or prison, please contact the ACLU of Arizona.