Instead of supporting a bill to provide female inmates with free and unlimited menstrual products, the Arizona Department of Corrections said it is revising its sanitary pad policy to try to put the issue to rest.
The department said in a statement Tuesday that inmates will now be granted 36 menstrual pads a month, up from the previous allowance of 12 pads. Tampons or other sanitary products would still have to be purchased.
“The department will continue to provide sanitary napkins free of charge to all of its female inmates, regardless of need,” the statement said.
It added: “As is the current practice, an inmate may request and, without charge, receive additional pads, if necessary. Additional product options will continue to be available through the inmate store.”
“We believe this change addresses and resolves, in an appropriate and timely fashion, the concerns raised in the last week,” the department said.
The announcement comes in the wake of news in recent days that state Rep. T.J. Shope (R) had decided not to hear a bill that would guarantee female inmates unlimited access to menstrual products.
Introduced by state Rep. Athena Salman (D), House Bill 2222 would give incarcerated women a free, unlimited supply of menstrual products, including tampons, pads, cups and sponges.
The bill narrowly passed its first hearing in the House Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee. It then moved on to the Rules Committee, chaired by Shope, who said he doesn’t intend to hear the bill. Without a hearing from Shope, the bill is essentially dead.
Matt Specht, the House Republican communications director, cited the Department of Corrections’ policy revision in justifying Shope’s decision not to hear the bill.
“In light of the Arizona Department of Correction’s decision to revise their administrative policy on feminine hygiene products, HB 2222 would now be redundant and Rep. Shope does not intend to hear it in the House Rules Committee,” Specht said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday.
Shope’s decision not to hear the bill prompted dozens of women to respond on social media using the hashtag #LetItFlow. Some took their complaint a step further and said they were sending the representative pads and tampons in the mail with a note urging him to act on the bill.
Rebecca McHood, an activist who helped spearhead the response, was wary of the Department of Corrections’ assumption that its new policy would solve the issue.
“The Department of Corrections could have changed this policy at any time before this, and they haven’t,” she told HuffPost on Tuesday. “They just made a policy change, but there’s no statute keeping them from going back.”
The Department of Corrections is currently facing up to $650,000 in fines for failing to improve health care in state prisons.
McHood, who is running as an independent candidate for the Arizona Senate, said providing female inmates with unlimited access to menstrual products is a “humanitarian issue” and shouldn’t be controversial.
“There’s no means without a statute to guarantee the humane treatment of our sisters who are in prison,” she said.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced a similar new policy last year, and other states may follow suit. But given that the majority of incarcerated women are housed in state prisons and local jails, the federal policy affects fewer than 10 percent of female inmates.
Women incarcerated in Arizona’s state and local institutions have previously been allowed just 12 free pads a month and up to 24 at any given time. If they want more, they must ask an officer. And if they want to use tampons or other products, they have to pay for them.
“I can’t imagine something more uncomfortable than not having the menstrual products you need for your period,” Salman said during a vote on the legislation earlier this month. “So my heart goes out to these women.”