Women incarcerated in Missouri prisons and jails will now have access to feminine hygiene products free of charge, under legislation that became law in July.
Senate Bill 53, signed into law by Governor Mike Parson (R) on July 14, included language that requires city and county jails to join the state’s prisons in providing those products to female inmates at no cost. Many facilities had already been doing this. The new law codifies that practice and extends it to those facilities that weren’t.
Research in 2018 showed that in Missouri’s two female prisons, more than 80 percent of women were making their own hygiene products, and those they were given for free were ineffectual. These homemade products were often resulting in infections or other complications.
The same language found in SB 53 was also sponsored by Representative Bruce DeGroot (R-Ellisville) in his House Bill 318. DeGroot said the measure was a way to provide dignity to incarcerated women, while saving the state money.
The proposal had broad bipartisan support. One of its most vocal advocates was Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis).
“What the research has shown is that if you don’t provide people with adequate products, they end up with poorer mental health outcomes and also with infections that can be really quite costly for the government since we’re responsible for healthcare when people are incarcerated,” said McCreery.
Representatives McCreery and DeGroot both worked with an organization called Missouri Appleseed regarding the issue. Appleseed is a nonprofit based in St. Louis. Founding Director Liza Weiss said women in Missouri prisons were having to choose between things like buying adequate hygiene products, or talking to their children on the phone.
“Women in Missouri prisons who have a GED, they make approximately $8.50 a month, and before this bill passed tampons were being sold in the canteen; a pack of 20 was like $5.36,” said Weiss. “We’ve heard so many stories … that often times women would be turning down visits with an attorney or even with their family members because they were so ashamed that they weren’t able to take care of their menstrual cycle … they were worried about being embarrassed.”
McCreery said part of what was so encouraging about this legislation was its bipartisan nature.
“A lot of Missourians and even a lot of elected officials are really tired of the hyper-partisanship, and this was one of those issues where people from both sides of the aisle and also males and females came together to make this change happen, and I think that we need to do more of that,” said McCreery.
The fiscal year 2022 budget also includes $240,000 to pay for providing those products to women in county and city jails and detention centers.
DeGroot does not include the “oo” sound = [de-GROTE)
Weiss rhymes with mice = [wice]