Last week, the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety in the Maine legislature voted to advance LD 628, a bill that would guarantee female prisoners a right to menstrual products.
But according to the Maine Beacon, GOP state Rep. Richard Pickett complained that this bill would make prisons too much like “country clubs”:
During debate, Pickett, who currently serves as Dixfield Police Chief and who voted against the bill, argued that detainees already had access to menstrual products such as pads and tampons.
“Quite frankly, and I don’t mean this in any disrespect, the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club,” he said, according to Bangor Daily News reporter Alex Acquisto. “They have a right to have these and they have them. If that wasn’t the case, then I would be supporting the motion, but they do.”
This argument is just ridiculous. Pads and tampons are not a luxury item — they are a basic health care necessity. Women who cannot afford menstrual products are at risk for infection.
Moreover, while the state’s current correctional system does allow prisoners a small supply of menstrual products, Maine Women’s Lobby policy director Whitney Parrish testified that women frequently run out: “You may have no money to go to commissary, and if you do, you may have to weigh that purchase against other necessities, like making phone calls to your children or attorney. You are forced to make the impossible decision of constructing your own menstrual products, using anything from clothing or notebook paper in place of a tampon.”
Lack of access to menstrual products is a widespread problem, that has long gone unacknowledged because several organizations advocating for the poor are run by men. But the public is slowly starting to turn more attention to the issue — many states are now moving to exempt these products from sales tax, which is already the case for many unisex medical and hygiene products.
Lawmakers who have never needed to use pads or tampons should defer to the experiences and advocacy of people who do, and not offer their own opinion on the matter.