RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A controversial, new Virginia Department of Corrections policy that proposed to prohibit visitors from wearing feminine hygiene products — including tampons — inside Virginia prisons has been suspended.
A letter addressed to offenders and visitors of Nottoway Correctional Center last week explained that effective October 6, the use of tampons and/or menstrual cups are no longer to be worn during ‘visitation’ in response to recent inquiries of feminine hygiene products being used to smuggle contraband into prisons.
On Tuesday, Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Brian J. Moran, called for the policy to be immediately suspended upon further review.
Moran’s decision, announced on Twitter, was made more than a week before the policy was supposed to go into effect:
8News reported on Monday that the letter and new policy frustrated many women who frequently visit Nottoway Correctional Center and other prisons in Virginia.
‘The use of tampons and/or menstrual cup hygiene items will be prohibited during visitation,’ the letter stated.
Women are losing their minds over this memo from the Nottoway Correctional Center. It indicates female visitors will no longer be allowed to wear tampons. Waiting for a response from @VADOC. pic.twitter.com/agDcdyV1XF— Kristin Smith (@kristin8news) September 24, 2018
A VDOC spokesperson told 8News that the policy aims to keep contraband from entering prison facilities.
The spokesperson explained that 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.
When potential contraband is seen on a body scan, visitors are offered the choice of a strip search or leaving the facility without visiting with an inmate.
The policy regarding visitors’ body cavities aims to keep contraband from entering prison facilities. 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. In consultation with the Attorney General’s office, 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. When potential contraband is seen on a body scan, visitors are offered the choice of a strip search or leaving the facility without visiting with an inmate. This policy aims to help visitors avoid that altogether.
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. We know that people who have loved ones in Virginia prisons don’t want visitors to be able to smuggle in lethal drugs, putting their loved ones’ lives in danger. — Va. Department of Corrections
Denny Barger, who visits her husband every weekend at the Lunenburg Correctional Center, spoke with 8News after learning of the policy on Saturday.
“I don’t understand. Not one thing about it … nothing,” explained Barger. “It’s absolutely insane. Every aspect of it is insane.”
Barger acknowledged an issue with contraband but told 8News she believes the new policy unfairly targets women.
“I think that they’re discriminating against women,” she said. “Contraband is an issue. Everybody knows it’s an issue but why focus on a female? What orifice that they have? What monthly cycle that they have? Men come in there too but they’re focusing on a woman.”
Barger says the policy won’t change her visitation plans but she believes it could make it more difficult on many women who want to see their loved ones.
“They’re going to get humiliated over what someone thinking they’re putting contraband in their vagina because they’re a female,” said Barger.
The ACLU also responded Monday afternoon, saying ‘any policy that discourages visitors is, therefore, one that should be subject to the most exacting and careful review.’
“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. 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. We call upon Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke to immediately clarify DOC policy for visitors at all state prisons and to direct wardens at the Nottoway Correctional Center and other facilities to reverse any policy or practice that limits the visitation rights of visitors who are menstruating without regard to which hygiene product they choose to use.” — ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga
Stay with 8News for updates.