Can female inmates really be trusted with unlimited tampons?
That was one of the main objections raised by the nine members of the House Committee on Military, Veterans, and Regulatory Affairs — all of whom are men — against House Bill 2222.
The bill, introduced by Representative Athena Salman, a Democrat from Tempe, would require the state's Department of Corrections to provide unlimited menstrual products to women incarcerated in Arizona prisons.
Currently, those women receive only 12 pads a month. If they need more, they have to ask a guard for permission. They also have to use their commissary accounts to pay for the additional products, unless they've been declared indigent. With prisoners making as little as 15 cents an hour, women are placed in a difficult situation: Do they pay for a phone call home, or for a box of tampons?
"Bartering and begging for pads was a regular occurrence," testified Adrienne Kitcheyan, who was formerly incarcerated at the Perryville women's prison. "You’ve got to really think if you want to sink your whole month’s income into pads — if, hopefully, they approve it."
If a woman got her period and bled on her uniform, she added, she potentially faced punishment on top of the humiliation. Depending on whether it was treated as a minor or major violation, she could lose access to phone calls, visitation rights, or the ability to purchase things from the store. (Yes, including more pads.)
Another former Perryville inmate, Tuesday Brauer, said that she'd received tickets for "contraband" because she tried to refashion pads into tampons in order to be more comfortable at her yard crew job.
Despite the testimony, many of the men on the committee remained skeptical about the bill's necessity. Some suggested that the problem could be solved if the Department of Corrections simply invested in better-quality pads; others warned that female inmates might request hundreds of pads and then stuff them down a toilet.
The lawmakers even questioned their own power over the Department of Corrections, wondering at one point if the extra tampons and pads that would be funded by an $80,000 appropriation would actually get to the women who need them.
"Is this really an issue?" Representative Jay Lawrence, a Republican from Scottsdale, asked at one point.
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Surprisingly — and perhaps because they realized how it would look if a group of men chose to deny women tampons — the committee ultimately voted 5-4 to move the bill forward.
One Republican, Representative Noel Campbell of Prescott, joined Democrats in voting in favor of the legislation — even as he dismissed it as "another feel-good bill" that, in his opinion, would do nothing to rectify the problem.
But Lawrence, in voting no, said that he was almost sorry that he'd given the bill a hearing.
"I didn’t expect to hear about pads and tampons and the problems of periods," he said.