The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, introduced recently by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), is a bill the politicians hope will improve the lives of almost 13,000 women in the federal prison system.
If the bill passes, it will provide incarcerated women with improvements to quality of life by, for example, providing free tampons and pads to inmates.
The bill also addresses several inhumane practices still practiced in the U.S. prison system. It proposes a ban on shackling pregnant women, especially non-violent offenders, and on putting pregnant women into solitary confinement.
The American prison system has been struggling to keep up with the rising number of prisoners, which the National Research Council has called “historically unprecedented and internationally unique.”
The prison population in the U.S. has grown from about 200,000 in 1973 to an astounding 2.2 million in 2009, with the number of female prisoners rising by 716% since 1980.
“The criminal justice system as a whole erodes so many aspects of our society and our common values,” Booker said to Refinery29.
“I know there’s a lot going on right now, but you can always judge the greatness of a society by looking at who it imprisons and how it treats them,” Booker concluded.
The senator is hopeful that the bill will pass.
“There’s been a lot of signs of bipartisan support, and you’re also seeing a lot of conservative leaders, like Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, even the Koch brothers, Rand Paul, who have spoken out on these issues,” Booker said.
The bill’s bipartisan support may be taken as a sign of its necessity in modern times. Incarcerated women should not have to use a large chunk of their commissary budgets on overpriced pads and tampons, or have to request these items from a prison staff that has the choice of denying their appeals.
In an article by Mic, a California inmate named Maria remembered how much she missed tampons and Tylenol during her two years in prison.
In a phone interview, she said that inmates were given an allowance of menstrual pads and that the prison staff kept track of how often they asked for more.
New York City was the first large city to enact legislation similar to the bill being proposed – beginning a trend that centered around the fairly new idea of “menstrual equality.”
Weiss-Wolf, a prominent voice in the fight for menstrual equality, helped to develop and pass the policy in New York City. She’s also been outspoken in her efforts to ban “tampon tax” in states all around the U.S.
Tampons, something considered by most a medical necessity if conditions are to be humane, are still not tax-exempt in many areas.
The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act will also save pregnant women from public humiliation and mental and emotional trauma by limiting shackling and the use of solitary confinement as punishment. Additionally, the bill will make it easier for mothers to arrange visits with their children.
“A majority of women behind bars are mothers and nearly three-quarters have been the victims of trauma or abuse,” said Senator Booker.
“We must take these circumstances into account when we place women in prison facilities.”
Incarcerated women are still human, and need to be treated as such. Increased access to feminine hygiene products is an important step needed in order to reform the current U.S. prison system.
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