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It's grass-cutting season and with it, rural lawn mower races, Montana's drive-thru blood project is easing shortages, rural Americans spend more on food when transportation costs are tallied, and a lack of good childcare is thwarting rural business owners.

Bill Aims to Address Access to Feminine Hygiene Products in Ohio Prisons

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Monday, July 17, 2023   

By Faith Fistler / Broadcast version by Nadia Ramlagan reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration.

While Christina Ray was incarcerated, she experienced the effects of limited feminine hygiene products firsthand.

"When I was incarcerated at Franklin County Jail, literally every morning they would throw in a supply bag and we'd have, like, six rolls of toilet paper and six giant, disgusting pads," Ray said. "And then the women would fight and divvy out everything and there was not always enough."

For many female inmates, access to adequate feminine hygiene products has been a challenge. House Bill 30, introduced in July of 2022, would require all correctional facilities that house female inmates to provide adequate feminine hygiene products, access to showers and proper sanitary disposal methods for inmates.

After 11 months, the bill had its first hearing on June 6, where it received feedback from legislators to help it progress forward.

The primary sponsor of the bill, Rep. Latyna Humphrey, D-Columbus, was first approached about the issue by a Dayton community activist.

"That was a concern for me, but also a personal story for me because I am the daughter of a returning citizen, my mother was incarcerated," Humphrey said. "Her being an activist was helpful, but also kind of having my own personal story with it was the driving force behind why I introduced the bill."

Humphrey said her passion for prison reform stems from her mother's journey, who she and her family were able to support while she was incarcerated.

"But what I will say is that not every inmate and offender is as blessed as my mother was to have me as an adult and her mother and my sister to help in ways that we did," Humphrey said.

The bill would cover the three state correctional facilities, Ohio Reformatory for Women, Dayton Correctional Institution and Northeast Reintegration Center, as well as county-run facilities and city-run jails throughout the state.

"But the reality is only where the women are housed, is where the products would potentially be," Humphrey said.

The bill currently is only focused on county and municipal facilities and does not extend to private prisons.

During Ray's incarceration at both Ohio Reformatory for Women and Dayton Correctional Institution from 2014 to 2018, pads were provided monthly, and tampons were only available through the commissary.

Now a graduate student in social work at Ohio State, Ray is a member of multiple prison reform advocacy groups. After speaking with several current inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, Ray learned conditions have improved. Inmates are now provided individual pads and tampons.

However, only regular size tampons are readily available for free at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, other sizes have to be purchased. With state pay not rising with the cost of inflation, different sized tampons are more expensive, Ray said.

Cleanliness within the prison is another issue with the majority of the responsibility falling to the inmates themselves.

"Some people would have the showers, some people would be mopping the halls," Ray said. "And while we did our best, we were limited with what cleaning products we have."

Inmates only have access to showers during set times while laundry services are only available during specific days.

"It's really important to be able to have those, so you're literally not walking around in your own blood," she said.

House Bill 30 states that different sized tampons and pads should be available and distributed based on individual needs at no extra cost to the inmates. The bill also stipulates that inmates should have unlimited access to showers during menstruation. However, the bill makes no mention of more accessible laundry services.

"I like to do it little by little and bit by bit," Humphrey said. "If you put too much in a thing, that sometimes can turn some of my colleagues off, whether it's important or not."

"So I think that is something that if we get it, you know, out of the house, and if we get it out of the Senate, I think it's something that we can look back at, or even create another bill for," she said.

A key factor of the improvements already taking effect in correctional facilities could be attributed to Humphrey's work with prison advocacy groups.

Humphrey's collaboration with Ohio Rehabilitation and Corrections has provided a surplus of feminine hygiene products for all three women's correctional facilities since November, Humphrey said.

"It's important again to clarify that things like this could change," she said. "We're advocating, and I'm proud of the advocacy that we started last year, but it's just important to codify it into law, so that won't change."

Humphrey is confident that the bill could become a reality due to actions already being put into effect by prison reform groups.

"Because it's already being done, there is a possibility that this bill could get passed...," she said. "It is not necessarily a bipartisan bill as of yet, but I've received a lot of guidance from my colleagues across the aisle to make this bill essentially the best it could be."

This collaboration is produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.


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