Nebraska’s ACLU: Prisons charge inmates too much for tampons

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Women and girls housed in Nebraska’s prisons and largest jails are paying as much as 50 percent more for tampons and other feminine hygiene products than they would at local grocery stores and pharmacies, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska said Thursday.

A new report that the group issued says Nebraska facilities routinely treat the products as “luxury items” that inmates must purchase from the prison commissary. State and county officials criticized the report as misleading, and said they provide an adequate number of feminine products free of charge to those who are in their custody.

The report said some state and county facilities only offer one free menstrual pad option to prisoners, and the quality of the pads and how frequently they’re distributed isn’t clear. The ACLU of Nebraska said none of the facilities it surveyed offered free tampons.

“Feminine hygiene products including pads, panty liners, and tampons, in varying types, must be seen as basic human necessities, not luxury items available for purchase,” the report said. “Female prisoners deserve to be treated with dignity. Women in Nebraska’s prisons should not be shamed and humiliated for their biology.”

The ACLU has heard stories of inmates bleeding for days in prison or jail because they didn’t have access to tampons or pads, said ACLU of Nebraska attorney and policy counsel Scout Richters.

Richters noted that not changing tampons regularly can lead to infections and toxic shock syndrome. Inmates paid 20 percent to 50 percent more for tampons than they would outside of prison, the report said.

The ACLU of Nebraska singled out the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, plus jails in Douglas and Lancaster counties and a youth facility that the Department of Health and Human Services runs.

The corrections and health departments said in a joint statement that the report was misleading and brought them “surprise and frustration.”

“An unlimited supply of feminine products are provided free of charge to women in our care,” said Courtney Phillips, CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services. She added that the products are “in every bathroom accessible to our female youth.”

Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes said his department provides hygiene products to incarcerated women. Frakes said sanitary napkins are available in restrooms and housing units, and additional items can be bought at the prison commissaries.

Brad Johnson, director of Lancaster County’s corrections department in Lincoln, disputed the report’s suggestion that his jail wasn’t serving inmates’ needs. He said the county facility, which houses 80 to 120 female inmates each day, provides generic maxi pads for free to inmates but charges for name-brand items.

Johnson acknowledged the name-brand items may cost more at the prison than they would at a regular store, but said he hasn’t heard any complaints from inmates.

“We buy the generic pads in bulk,” he said. Inmates “can just walk up and ask for them anytime they want. Their basic needs are being met.”

Thursday’s report was released a day before a legislative hearing that will examine issues in the state corrections system, which has faced scrutiny for a litany of problems, including two deadly outbreaks of violence since May 2015. The Department of Correctional Services issued a report Wednesday to highlight improvements the agency has made despite its challenges.

The ACLU of Nebraska has filed a lawsuit against the department, alleging that some of its facilities are dangerously overcrowded.

Danielle Conrad, the ACLU of Nebraska’s executive director, said the corrections department should immediately follow the lead of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which changed its policy in August to require all of its facilities to issue free maxi pads and tampons to female inmates.

“This is one small but important step Nebraska leaders can take and should take to improve prison conditions,” Conrad said.

The ACLU of Nebraska report also found that Nebraska’s female prison population has been increasing, but remains slightly lower than the national average. It reported that the state has the fifth-highest incarceration rate for young women, with 119 of every 100,000 young women incarcerated or committed.


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