Florida lawmaker files bill to provide menstrual products for incarcerated women

Florida House Rep. Shevrin Jones filed a bill this week to provide menstrual products for incarcerated women and stipulate certain protections against abuse from correctional officers toward inmates.

HB 49, also known as the "Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act," would require jails, prisons, juvenile detention center or other correctional facilities to make available "health care products" to incarcerated women and girls at no extra cost and without medical referral. The term "health care products" includes menstrual hygiene products, moisturizing soap that is not lye-based, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

"A correctional facility shall not require that a woman be diagnosed with an illness to access healthcare products," the bill states. "A correctional facility shall make healthcare products available in common housing areas and in medical care facilities."

click to enlarge Shevrin Jones - Photo via Florida House of Representatives
Photo via Florida House of Representatives
Shevrin Jones
The West Park Democrat said he filed the bill after reports from women who had suffered abuse within correctional facilities. A 2015 investigation by the Miami Herald of Lowell Correctional Institution, a state women's prison in Ocala, found those incarcerated accused correctional officers of forcing them to have sex or perform indecent acts in exchange for "basic necessities, like toilet paper, soap and sanitary napkins."

"Human dignity is not a concept that should only be afforded to some select few, but rather for all, regardless of their status in society," Jones said in a statement. "Healthcare products such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sanitary napkins are essential products. Depriving women of these has the potential to severely impact their health."

HB 49 specifies that male correctional officers shall not conduct pat-down searches of body cavity searches on incarcerated women unless they present an immediate risk of harm to themselves or others and a female correctional officer is not available. Under the proposal, male officers would also not be allowed to areas where incarcerated women may be undressing, such as restrooms, shower areas and medical treatment areas unless there is an emergency. Instances where male officers conduct searches on incarcerated women or enter the prohibited areas would have to documented.

"It is time we acknowledge that equitable treatment and basic sanitation should be a right for all women in correctional facilities," Jones said. "It should not be an inaccessible commodity because of indigence. While there are very real and legitimate security interests at stake, we can respect those security interests and still respect the dignity of the women we incarcerate."

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