In Jail, Pads and Tampons as Bargaining Chips

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From The New York Times:

When Tara Oldfield-Parker, 24, was arrested on charges of shoplifting, she had just gotten her period. She asked the officers in charge of her holding cell in a police station in Queens for a sanitary pad.

Sure, they said. But they would need to call an ambulance to get one.

After about an hour and a half, they produced a sterile gauze pad, apparently obtained from an ambulance. It was the kind of rectangular gauze used to bandage an arm, with no adhesive.

It might seem strange that a place where female suspects are held would not have something as basic as a sanitary pad. Ms. Oldfield-Parker’s story reflects the way menstruation can be treated in New York’s jails: as an inconvenience, almost a surprise, to be met, at times, with an improvised response. Simple supplies like pads and tampons can become bargaining chips, used to maintain control by correction officers, or traded among incarcerated women, according to former inmates and advocates on the issue.

Each level of incarceration in New York has a different policy (or no policy) related to menstruation. Ms. Oldfield-Parker’s cell had no supplies. But in the state’s prisons and jails, these women and advocates say, inconsistent access to tampons and pads has less to do with stock and more to do with power. The facilities have enough supplies, but they are not available equally to all the women who need them.

At the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island, where about 600 women usually are imprisoned, pads and tampons are distributed weekly. It’s up to officers to determine how the pads reach the women: Some leave them out in a bucket or box; others hand them out to individual women who ask.

“Some women have reported no issues at all; they ask and get what they need,” said Kelsey De Avila, a jail services social worker with Brooklyn Defender Services who spends about three days a week on Rikers. “Others have to beg for it.”

Since the distribution is left up to individual officers, there is an easy opportunity for mishandling.

Read the entire article here.