Female inmates at the state prison in Jessup, Maryland — the state’s only women’s prison — say getting feminine hygiene products, like pads and tampons, while they’re incarcerated can be challenging, sometimes even impossible.
“On the first of the month, when they’re supposed to get the supplies, they will go through and in every cell they will open the door, they will throw in a couple of rolls of toilet paper and a couple of pads,” said Baltimore resident Kimberly Haven, who was released from the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in 2015.
But there are also times when the prison runs out and that monthly delivery doesn’t come, said Haven, now an activist on criminal justice issues.
When women need more than they get, they can ask an officer for more, she said, but for one reason or another — maybe the prison is short on supply or maybe the officer doesn’t want to help — they may not get the pads they ask for.
Women who have enough money in their commissary accounts can also buy tampons or pads, but that usually requires financial help from friends and family outside the prison. Several former inmates said that while items like soap and deodorant are affordable for someone who has a job in the prison, pads and tampons are pricey.
A bill before the General Assembly requires the manager of a state or local correctional facility to make sure the facility has a sufficient supply of feminine hygiene products, to give the products to inmates at no cost when they need them, and to keep written policies and records on the subject. The Maryland Commission on Correctional Standards will have to review each facility’s policy and records on a regular basis.
The goal is equal treatment for female inmates, said Sen. Susan Lee, a Montgomery County Democrat and the bill’s sponsor.
“Women’s products and hygiene products are generally not given the attention that they need in these correctional facilities, like what they have for men,” she said.
And when female inmates can’t get what they need, they get creative.
“I would take these sanitary pads that they do give — which have the absorbency of putting a Band-Aid on an amputated limb — and I would rip them apart, and I would take that fluffy little cotton that flies everywhere. And I would use the lining of it. And I would roll my own tampons,” Haven said.
Qiana Johnson, who lives in Clinton, served her time after Haven did, but she described a similar experience.
“We had shop rags that are sweatpants material. Women would use that to collect their blood,” said Johnson, who was released from the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in August. “They would make tampons out of the mattress — out of the stuffing that’s inside of the mattress.”