Period Power: Periods and Prisons in Australia and New Zealand

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Recently we’ve been shedding some light on
why periods are powerful in society, not just in developing countries but right on our front door step too.

From #PeriodPoverty, to girls missing out on school and even period shaming through the media (ugh, not cool!) we’ve still got a long way to go for menstruation equality! That’s why we’re all about the
#PeriodPower this year.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been diving into how people are affected by attitudes towards periods in different walks of life including in schools, the workplace, homelessness and beyond.

Why are we talking about periods in prisons?

Globally there are over 700,000 women in prisons at this moment, with some of the highest numbers
in the US, China and Russia. Regardless of why they are there or what kind of facility they are in we would all agree that, like their other gendered counterparts, they should have access to basic health care and sanitation (treatment of women in prisons around the world is a huge important topic, but one we can only touch upon briefly in this blog post! If you’re interested in reading more check out what The Marshall Project wrote!)

Unfortunately, this is where menstruation can really affect your quality of life, to the point of risking the physical and psychological health of many of these women around the world. Whether it’s a lack of access to proper shower facilities, help with severe symptoms or, most commonly, even lack of access to enough period products. Most rely on tampons and pads rather than menstrual cups, so these have to be provided regularly.

Prisons and correctional facilities may seem like a far off world to you and me but we all care about others having access basic human rights and the biases that affect menstruators in prison are also a reflection on what happens outside the prison walls too.

Women in Prisons in Australia and New Zealand

The vast majority of women prisoners in Australia and New Zealand have committed minor, nonviolent offences and 94% will serve less than 12 months. The few serious violent crimes committed by women are usually against violent partners: women rarely commit serious violent acts toward strangers. Most of the time we are not talking about major crime figures or a threat to community safety here (Phew!!)! But despite us living in these beautiful countries with excellent facilities, don’t think by any means that the time spent incarcerated is a party with flat-screens and special privileges. Even for a short-time it’s a very severe punishment indeed.

So, periods in Prisons and Correctional Facilities?

Unfortunately, not all menstruators are created equally. If you thought our tampon tax was absurd (because it is), how does not having access to regular period care in prison sound? Yah, you probably don’t want to be in that situation, but some are.

Accounts from prison health care staff indicate that menstrual disorders take up a high proportion of doctors’ time in women’s prisons and that such complaints rank among the conditions most frequently presented for consultation. And what about the urban myth about sisters and female housemates cycles all syncing-up?? Does this happen when you’re all locked up together?! Apparently in prisons the
phenomenon of ’mass psycho bleed week’ every month is inconclusive. The emotional stress, changes in diet and physical activity shake menstrual cycles all over the place.

And what about pads and tampons. We spoke with some correctional facility staff to get the low down. In juvenile detention centres and facilities, all personal health products including pads and tampons are provided to them as they need them. Fantastic!

But it’s a whole other story in Adult facilities. Depending on whether the prison is Privately, or State owned will determine if pads and tampons are provided free-of-charge. In many prisons, toilet paper, pads, toothpaste and soap all need to be paid for from the prisoner’s personal earnings. Huh? Well, many
prison facilities have contracts for small operations, such as re-packing in-flight entertainment headphones or washing hospital linen. They are paid a very small wage for this work.  This money can then be used to purchase so-called ‘luxury’ items….because well, we all know that menstruating is a
total ‘luxury’!!

In New Zealand, inmates are allowed to spend up to $70 a week from their trust account to buy approved grocery items on a weekly basis and can keep no more than $200 in their account. And if you can’t work or earn money? You’d better phone-a-friend and get them to send you some money. Either that or ration your pads by using the same one for a few days…

The fact that many menstruating humans in prisons are not treated with respect during their cycle is a huge problem, and it is extremely humiliating for these inmate to ask a male correctional officer for hygiene products. Any small earnings used to buy pads and tampons in prison just does not add up to enough after considering all the other supplies they need to buy.

Periods in prisons: What needs to change?

State and privately owned prisons still have not passed these laws that allow free period products to inmates, which is still a huge issue because most of those menstruating people are sent to state and private prisons.

So what can be done? Do some digging. Research what prisons
are like in your area and what regulations they have. Contact your local
representatives and demand for a law to be passed that allows free menstrual
products for prisoners. Make your voice heard!
Menstrual hygiene isn’t and should not be a luxury, it’s a
basic human right and a necessity every menstruator should have.

Keep the conversation going and raise awareness by sharing
this post and use the hashtag #PeriodPower. You can also find us on Facebook,
Twitter and Instagram for more period power talk!