Alabama bill requires jails to provide menstrual products to inmates

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday approved legislation to require jails and prisons to provide female inmates with tampons or sanitary pads.

The bill by Rep. Rolanda Hollis would write into law that jails and prisons are required to provide the items. Hollis said she brought the legislation “to make sure” women receive the items after hearing stories of incarcerated women using cotton balls and rags to improvise their own products.

“To be in a position to not get what you need, is not right. It’s not fair. It’s not sanitary. This is something that should be required,” said Hollis, a Democrat from Birmingham.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said the state already provides the items without charge to female inmates.

“Hygiene items (sanitary napkins, tampons, toilet paper) are available in unlimited supply in all bathroom areas within female facilities,” prison system spokesman Bob Horton wrote in an email.

The state prison system in 2015 agreed to make the products are widely available and free as one part of a sweeping settlement with the Department of Justice to improve conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, the state’s only prison for women.

In a 2014 letter to the state, investigators wrote that inmates told them they had trouble obtaining the products and the prison black market left women vulnerable to sexual advances and other demands for favors to obtain them.

Horton said department has complied with the agreement and undergoes compliance inspections. He also said Wendy Williams, the deputy commissioner for women services, oversees the feminine hygiene item distribution program and is unware of any inmate grievances.

Hollis said she brought the legislation after hearing stories of inmates trying to improvise their own menstrual products.

“What I’m hearing is that they were not receiving their products in a timely manner which was causing women to start making their own products. Due to that, they started getting infected,” Hollis said.

Representatives voted 101-0 Tuesday for the legislation. It now moves to the Alabama Senate

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