New law allows Va. inmates to get free feminine hygiene products

Tampon Tax Plaintiff_314140

Boxes of tampons are displayed in a pharmacy, Monday, March 7, 2016, in New York. A group of women has filed a lawsuit accusing New York of unlawfully taxing tampons and other feminine hygiene products. The suit argues that medical items are exempt from sales tax in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Women who are incarcerated no longer have to pay for feminine hygiene products while behind bars because of a new law that went into effect in the Commonwealth.

The City of Richmond’s Sheriff Antionette Irving says there are a number of issues brought up with the female inmate population, feminine hygiene being one of them.

“They may be going through a hard time, because of a mistake or something that they did. But that doesn’t mean their dignity should be taken away from them,” Sheriff Irving said.

Access to tampons and pads in prisons and jails is something Sheriff Irving says members of the law enforcement and corrections community have been talking about for years. Pads have always been free at state-run facilities, but before 2018 inmates would have to buy tampons at many facilities.  

“What I heard from the actual inmates was, if they didn’t have the money, they didn’t get it,” Sheriff Irving said.

Before she got to the Richmond City Justice Center, Sheriff Irving says inmates would have to give a written request for these products to a deputy.

“There was just a lot of times where the girls would arguing and stuff the deputies because they needed pads and the deputies didn’t want to bring them,” Heather Macias, a resident at the Richmond City Justice Center, said.

Macias has been incarcerated for two years.

“I would sometimes think ‘I wish that we had better access, like we could go to the store and just get our own pads.’ But we’re in here. So, we can’t really do that,” Macias said.

She and other inmates would have to resort to alternatives if they couldn’t get a menstrual product in time.

“We would use maybe our washcloth or some toilet paper,” she added, they would sometimes make their own tampons too.

Since the new sheriff has come to town, Macias says a lot has changed. A new law is protecting women like her too.

HB83 ensures female inmates can have access to tampons and pads without charge. It went into effect at the beginning of the month. According to the Department of Corrections, it has budgeted about $34,000 to supply these products. Local and regional jails cover the costs on their own. The Richmond City Justice Center spent about $53,000 on “personal care” items, including menstrual products.”

“It’s like toilet paper. It’s a necessity. Whether you can afford it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the opportunity to have it provided for you,” Sheriff Irving said. “It’s why I try not to just use it as a female issue. But all of our inmates have the right to good hygiene.”

There was also an effort this session to create an exemption for sales tax on some feminine hygiene products. The bill was left in committee this year. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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