Earlier this month, legislators in Maine voted on a bill amendment that would guarantee incarcerated people access to menstrual products. It’s a good idea: While a federal law ensures that federal prisons offer free pads and tampons, that’s not the case at state and local facilities, where supplies are often limited and women are forced to either devise their own solutions or scrounge together funds to purchase the items at commissary.
However, four Republicans balked at the proposal and voted against it. Here’s how State Representative and Dixfield Police Chief Richard Pickett put it, according to a reporter who was on the scene: incarcerated women shouldn’t get more access to menstrual products because “the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club.”
Alex Acquisto, a statehouse reporter for The Bangor Daily News, quoted Pickett in a tweet. Per his account, Pickett argued that women already have all the menstrual products they need.
“Quite frankly, and I don’t mean this in any disrespect, the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club…. [T]hey have a right to have these and they have them. If that wasn’t the case, then I would be supporting the motion, but they do,” Pickett said, as cited in a tweet from Acquisto.
Unless the tampons and pads are gold-plated, we have no idea what would compel Pickett to reference a “country club” in the same context as comprehensive access to menstrual products. Tampons and pads are medical supplies, and women deserve to receive adequate care while they’re incarcerated, plain and simple. The harder these products are to access, the more common it will be for women in prisons to face serious health issues. This has been an ongoing fight, with one recent report uncovering instances in New York in which women resorted to trading sexual favors for pads.
According to the Press Herald, several jails in Maine already provide free menstrual products, but incarcerated women have to request them. The proposed legislation would make the pads and tampons more freely available, and there would be no limit on the number that women could have at one time.
Whitney Parrish, a director at the Maine Women’s Lobby, broke it down for critics, according to the Maine Beacon.
“You’re given a limited supply of menstrual products per month, often of low quality due to cost saving, and when you run out, you’re out…. You may have no money to go to commissary, and if you do, you may have to weigh that purchase against other necessities, like making phone calls to your children or attorney. You are forced to make the impossible decision of constructing your own menstrual products, using anything from clothing or notebook paper in place of a tampon,” she said.
Luckily, most saw it as Parrish does. A 6-4 vote allowed the bill amendment to advance, proving that most people understand that basic women’s health care isn’t a luxe perk. It’s a human right.