When Florida women enter the incarceration system they bathe in their own menstrual blood for as long as they remain behind bars, in scenes worthy of the classic horror movie Carrie.
Women in state facilities don’t get feminine hygiene products such as sanitary napkins and tampons, forcing them to come up with solutions of their own, like using socks and more.
The ad hoc system means they stew in their own blood each month for lack of proper products, a situation that keeps inmates in a barbaric state, just as blood is used as a humiliating prop in Carrie. Which is par for the course in a state corrections system that allocates less than 1 percent of its budget to health care workers.
But starting Monday, July 1, the situation comes to an end as a new law goes into effect, “requiring correctional facilities to provide incarcerated women with certain health care products,” meaning sanitary pads, tampons and even soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Thousands of women stand too benefit.
The law, one of whose primary co-sponsors was Amy Mercado (D-48) with support from four other Central Florida legislators, applies not only to the state correctional system, but also to county, juvenile and residential facilities, as well as temporary holding centers or “any facility operated on behalf of the state or political subdivision.”
Mercado said House Bill 49 is Florida’s version of legislation proposed by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) titled “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” which has been reintroduced each year since 2017, when Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) came up with the bill, along with Booker and Warren. The Florida legislation goes by the same name.
Booker, Warren and Harris are 2020 Democratic presidential contenders.
“This is only one layer of major systemic problems,” said Mercado, member of the House Democratic minority who often cannot get bills past the Republican majority. This bill was considered “moderately bipartisan” by LegisScan.
The border crisis, in which adults and children are held in facilities that often do not provide hygiene products, has shone a harsh light on the issue.
A week ago, a federal Department of Justice lawyer argued before a circuit court that the federal government shouldn’t be required to give detained migrant children toothbrushes, soap, towels, showers inside border detention facilities, during short-term stays.
More Changes to Come
Back in Orlando, Mildred Fernández, a former Orange County commissioner who spent 18 months in jail, praised the new law, saying “This is the beginning of many changes.”
Fernández added, “It’s challenging to see it on a daily basis, as I saw it, and how [the inmates] survive. ” She praised Mercado, calling her a “star on her way.”
About 6,658 young girls and women will directly benefit from the law. Over 50 percent are between the age of 18 and 34.
Women make up 7 percent of Florida’s incarcerated population, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. Most of the imprisoned women are non-Hispanic white, 27 percent are black and 7 percent Hispanic.
Restricts Male Corrections Officers
In addition to personal hygiene products, the bill also restricts the movements and conduct of male correctional workers. Going forward, they cannot pat down or do a body cavity search on incarcerated women, and they cannot enter any areas in which jailed women may be undressed, among other things. Amazing that this has been allowed, even considered normal, for so long.
It’s about time that the humiliation of the Carries and others in the U.S. detention system came to an end in the name of decency and humanity.
Other Central Florida co-sponsors of the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (House Bill 49): John Cortés (D-43), Anna Eskamani (D-47), Carlos Smith (D-49), Geraldine Thompson (D-44).
˜˜María Padilla, Editor