VA is now NOT allowing visitors to wear a tampon or menstrual cup during visits....this is way over the line..... pic.twitter.com/9JxzWrT6cS— PrisonReformMovement (@PrisonReformMvt) September 23, 2018
Starting next month, any woman who visits an inmate in a Virginia prison will be barred from wearing tampons and menstrual cups.
According to the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC), the policy will reportedly prevent contraband from being smuggled into its prisons.
“The policy regarding visitors’ body cavities aims to keep contraband from entering prison facilities,” said Lisa Kinney, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Corrections in an email. “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.”
Kinney said the DOC got in touch with the state Attorney General’s Office and “it was decided that facilities would offer pads to women who are wearing tampons while visiting a prison so the tampons don’t appear as possible contraband on a body scan.”
The policy, which will take effect next month, was first reported by Warden David Call at the Nottoway Correctional Center on September 20.
According to the warden, anyone found to be resisting the policy would be prohibited from visiting the prison that day and potentially in the future.
“Offender visitors who have been recognized by the body scanner machine having a foreign object that could possibly be a tampon and has failed to remove such item prior to being screened, will have their visitation terminated for the day and will have their visitation privileges reviewed,” the warden wrote in the letter.
However, the policy in question sparked widespread outrage amongst advocates who condemned policing women’s body. They argued it violated the privacy rights of female visitors.
“That’s such a violation,” said Jana White, a co-founder of the Virginia Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “I can’t understand why we, the loved ones, have to go through this.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia urged DOC Chief Harold Clarke to reconsider the sexist policy.
“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 to society,” said Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications for ACLU of Virginia in an email.
“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,” he added.
It is important to mention Virginia already has in place a number of rules dictating the dress codes of the visitors– the majority reportedly targeted at women's clothing.
For instance, among the items visitors are banned from wearing are tube tops, tank tops, halter tops, miniskirts, form-fitting clothes, leggings, and "tops or dresses that have revealing necklines and/or excessive splits." It also specifies that all visitors "must wear appropriate underwear."
“Offenders in Virginia have died of drug overdoses while inside our prisons. It’s our job to keep the offenders and staff as safe as we can,” wrote Kinney.
However, what the authorities need to acknowledge is visitors aren't the only mules that provide drugs to prisoners.
In the past, correctional officers in Virginia were also caught smuggling contraband into prisons. In November 2016, prosecutors arrested at least four former DOC employees who allegedly conspired to bring drugs into several state prisons.
It is yet to be seen for how long the controversial policy holds up as the previous legal efforts to control tampon use were deemed illegal by the courts.
Last year in Tennessee, the nation's largest private prison Core Civic reached an agreement with women who sued the facility after it ordered them to remove their tampons or sanitary pads to prove they were menstruating and not trying to smuggle in contraband.
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