Virginia is cracking down on prison contraband — and alienating women in the process.
As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, the Virginia Department of Corrections has issued a new policy demanding that women visiting the commonwealth’s prisons refrain from wearing tampons and menstrual cups. Set to take effect on Oct. 6, the policy will also see visitors being offered pads as an alternative.
Officials say that the tampon ban is due to concerns that they could be used to smuggle contraband to prisoners.
“As a result of recent inquiries about feminine hygiene products being an ideal way to conceal contraband … offender visitors shall be notified that the use of tampons or menstrual cup products are no longer permitted to be worn during visitation,” the DOC’s chief of operations, David Robinson, said in a memo to wardens.
Department spokeswoman Lisa Kinney told the Times-Dispatch that visitors must go through a body scanner upon their arrival. Anyone shown to be using an offending feminine hygiene product must either agree to a strip search and have the item removed, or be sent home without seeing an inmate.
“The policy regarding visitors’ body cavities aims to keep contraband from entering prison facilities,” she explained.
“If someone chooses to visit a Virginia Department of Corrections inmate, he or she cannot have anything hidden inside a body cavity. There have been many instances in which visitors have attempted to smuggle drugs into our prisons by concealing those drugs in a body cavity, including the vagina.”
Female staff members are exempt from the ban, which the ACLU of Virginia has decried as “discriminatory and humiliating.”
This policy is not only invasive, it is discriminatory and humiliating. We'll continue to speak out until @VADOC treats people who are incarcerated and their families with the dignity and respect they rightfully deserve. https://t.co/GRKioefTSp
— ACLU of Virginia (@ACLUVA) September 25, 2018
“Helping people who are housed in jail or prison stay connected to friends, families, and communities is critical to rehabilitation and eventual, successful re-entry into society,” ACLU of Virginia executive director Claire Gastañaga added in a statement. “Any policy that discourages visitors is, therefore, one that should be subject to the most exacting and careful review. In addition, a policy like this one that requires those who wish to visit people who are incarcerated to set aside their dignity and health is simply unacceptable.
“We call upon Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke to immediately clarify DOC policy for visitors at all state prisons and to direct wardens at the Nottoway Correctional Center and other facilities to reverse any policy or practice that limits the visitation rights of visitors who are menstruating without regard to which hygiene product they choose to use.”
It’s not the first time tampons have been banned. In 2013, Texas state police confiscated feminine hygiene products — but allowed firearms — during debates on abortion legislation in the Texas state capitol, for fear that they would be used as projectiles aimed at politicians.
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