Suspended tampon ban for state prison visitors sparks bill that could go to governor


A bill that would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to review and revise its visitor policy regarding feminine hygiene products is one vote away from making it to the Governor’s desk. 

This comes after a controversial policy was proposed back in September that would prevent women visiting state prisons from wearing tampons or menstrual cups.

WJHL’s sister station 8News looked into the issue when an inmate’s family member received a letter about the policy change. According to a Department of Corrections spokesperson, the woman would be given the choice of a strip search or to leave the facility without visiting an inmate, if a body scan found these items. 

The spokesperson added the proposed policy was created in response to concerns these products were used to smuggle contraband into prisons. The facilities would offer pads to women in need who are visiting inmates so that tampons don’t appear as contraband on the required security body scan. 

The policy was supposed to go into effect on Oct. 6, 2018. Days after family members of inmates were notified of the changes, DOC suspended it. 

Receiving notice of this policy infuriated families with loved ones in prison. It also caught the attention of the General Assembly. 

“We thought, that’s odd, why would you do that?” Del. Mark Keam (D-District 35) said. 

Del. Keam is behind HB1884, which would require the DOC to review and revise its visitation policy to make sure it doesn’t discriminate against women. 

“We don’t want any private citizen, who have no guilt whatsoever, who are visiting their loved ones to be treated as they are the criminals themselves,” Del. Keam said.

The department’s concerns about contraband are serious, Del. Keam says, which the review will have to weigh as well. 

“We want to ensure that our prisoners, as well as our entire corrections system, is not full of contraband and drugs and problems because the last thing because the last thing we need is anything being snuck into the prison system,” he added. 

When asked why he’s carrying this bill, Del. Keam said he tries to make an effort to speak up for the women in his life and those he represents. 

“No matter how much I say I care about women’s rights, I’ll never be in their shoes,” he said. “So, the next best thing I can do as a policymaker is to ask them, what do they need?”

If the bill passes its final read later this week and is signed into law by the Governor, the revised policy would have to be given to members of the General Assembly by Nov. 1, 2019. 

This isn’t the only recent bill relating to feminine hygiene products and prisons. Women who are incarcerated no longer have to pay for tampons or pads while behind bars because of a new law that went into effect in the Commonwealth last year. 

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