Women Incarcerated: Basic Right Inequity

 I think it is important to analyze and discuss the trauma that woman face within the carceral system. We always discuss the trauma that individuals go through before prison, but I think it is time we talk about the trauma that surfaces within the facilities. When it comes to women, they have different situational needs that differ from men. Before incarceration woman face many adversaries and it continues in prison. For women, it is important to realize that the most common reasons for women to commit crimes are based on survival of abuse and poverty and substance abuse. Their actions can be results of many different issues, including mental illness, trauma, substance abuse and addiction, economic and social marginality, homelessness, and relationship issues (1). Programs need to be focused on individualized reformation and focus on rehabilitation. A larger percentage of women are diagnosed with major depression and anxiety disorders, especially PTSD. Most women in the system (up to 70%, possibly even more) report histories of abuse as children or adults. Additionally, a greater percentage of women have histories of substance abuse than men (2). Statistics like these are reasons why women need equality but needs specialized focused programs. Unfortunately, women face trauma before, during, and after, it is an endless cycle.

An issue that causes trauma for females within the system is centered around a basic human right and need that everyone deserves no matter the situation. The major issue within the prison systems for women that needs to be addressed is the lack of feminine hygiene products and assistance. 

Within the correctional system there is still many states without legislation or mandates on period products. In 2017, only 12 states and the District of Columbia have passed menstrual equity laws that require no cost menstrual products in state prisons, which means most incarcerated people in the United States still have limited access to the period products they need. 

Many of these women must beg, borrow, or make their own sanitary products, this proves that there is no dignity, compassion, or humanity in the system. Over the years pads and tampons have become weaponized in the system. “I know women who made products out of shreds of clothes or stuffing from inside their state-issued mattresses and were subsequently penalized for destroying public property.” This isn’t only embarrassing but it carries great health risks as well. These makeshift products can lead to toxic shock, infections, and infertility (3).

In Connecticut, commissary sold a pack of pads for $2.63. Prison jobs in Connecticut they pay as low as 30 cents per hour. “Assuming that a woman has a five-day menstrual period, each month and changes her tampon at 8-hour intervals, the maximum time suggested by gynecologists, a woman using tampons at NCCW is spending 25% of her annual salary on feminine hygiene products” (3). With that wage any of these individuals cannot afford it on top of other necessities like doctor’s visits, acetaminophen, or a phone call to a loved one. Some women even turn down visits with their family or even turn down visits with their attorneys, which can have a huge impact on their time incarcerated within the whole process (3).

When it came to asking guards for a menstrual product, there is a certain power dynamic between the guards and inmates that created a sense of humiliation even thought this is a basic need. Sometimes guards would use manipulation and blackmail against the inmates and used their power to go above them. According to a 2019 Period Equity and ACLU report, a Department of Justice investigation found that correctional officers at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama coerced incarcerated people to have sex with them in exchange for access to period products (3). 

This even is affecting young women too, there is a youth rehabilitation and treatment center in Geneva. This place houses girls anywhere from age fourteen to nineteen. Even they had to pay for their own feminine hygiene products. The young girls can’t earn money while in the home, so it is entirely up to the families. The problem rests on the fact that some families are poor and cannot afford to travel to visit them let alone afford these sanitary products for them.

Every individual has a right to personal hygiene whether you’re incarcerated or not. Giving woman sanitation products and focusing on women health is a major factor that needs to be included in personal treatment plans for women in prison. The deny of these basic rights reinforces any kind of powerlessness you have ever felt in your life.


Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2021). Criminal behavior: A psychological approach. 

Lee, J. (2021, July 1). 5 pads for 2 cellmates: Period products are still scarce in prison. The 19th. Retrieved December 9, 2021, from https://19thnews.org/2021/06/5-pads-for-2-cellmates-period-inequity-remains-a-problem-in-prisons/?amp

Rousseau, D. (2021). Module 4: Implementing Psychology in the Criminal Justice System. [Lecture Notes]. Boston University Metropolitan College.

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