Richmond, Virginia : Following swift public backlash to a new policy barring women visiting inmates in Virginia from wearing tampons or menstrual cups, the Commonwealth is suspending the policy before it had a chance to begin.
Brian Moran, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security for the Commonwealth of Virginia, announced the change on Tuesday.
“Having been recently informed of a recent Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) visitation policy, I have ordered its immediate suspension until further review,” Moran tweeted. “I understand DOC’s precautionary steps to detect the rising threat of contraband, overdoses and even deaths among our offender population. A number of concerns have been raised about the new procedure. Though the policy has not taken effect and is scheduled for October 6, I feel it appropriate to immediately suspend the newly developed policy until a more thorough review of its implementation and potential consequences are considered.”
The policy, which was aimed at preventing contraband from being smuggled into prisons, required women to submit to a body scan and then be escorted to a bathroom by a female employee and given a replacement pad or strip searched if they refused to comply.
A policy scheduled to go into effect next month in Virginia bans women visitors – except for lawyers seeing clients – from wearing tampons or menstrual cups in prisons.
Most women who visit prisons in Virginia soon won’t be allowed to wear tampons or menstrual cups.
The policy, which goes into effect next month, is intended to stop women from smuggling contraband,, the state Department of Corrections said.
“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 v****a,” prison spokeswoman Lisa Kinney said. The new policy is intended to protect the safety of prisoners following the deaths of some inmates from drug overdoses, Kinney said.
Kinney said when body scans reveal potential contraband, visitors have the choice of accepting a body cavity search or leaving the prison. The tampon policy “aims to help visitors avoid that altogether,” she said.
The policy doesn’t apply to female lawyers visiting clients, Kinney said. “This policy pertains to general visitation, not legal visits,” she said in an email.
Other female visitors will be offered pads to use in place of tampons or menstrual cups. Those who fail to remove the hygiene products before a body scan “will have their visitation terminated for the day and will have their visitation privileges reviewed,” according to a memo by David Call, the warden of Nottoway Correctional Center in central Virginia.
Inmate advocates sharply criticized the policy, saying it violates 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 who makes regular visits to see an inmate at Sussex II State Prison in Waverly, Virginia.
“I can’t understand why we, the loved ones, have to go through this,” said White.
In a Sept. 20 letter sent to visitors and inmates at the Nottoway Correctional Center, Warden David Call said the policy stems from concerns that the feminine hygiene products could be “an ideal way to conceal contraband.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia issued a statement criticizing the policy as “simply unacceptable.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia urged DOC Chief Harold Clarke to reverse the policy.
“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,” the ACLU said in a statement.
In March 2017, the nation’s largest private prison operator reached an agreement with two women in Tennessee who sued after they were ordered to remove tampons or sanitary pads to prove they were menstruating and not trying to smuggle in contraband. The woman sued Corrections Corp. of America, now named CoreCivic, and officers at South Central Correctional Facility, alleging that guards made them expose their genitals.
The company had argued that it can require women to replace their tampons or pads if they reasonably suspect visitors are bringing in contraband. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed.