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Supervisors may make tampons available for juvenile detainees

Los Angeles County Probation

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a motion Tuesday that would allow young women and girls in juvenile detention to use tampons.

The motion, introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, would also instruct the L.A. County Probation Department to provide juvenile detainees with better quality undergarments, improve prenatal and postpartum care and increase access to family planning and sexual health resources.  

Of the nearly 1,100 young people currently incarcerated in county juvenile detention centers or camps, 167 are girls, according to the Probation Department. A report prepared for the county late last year found that hygiene issues were a major concern for many detainees.

Researchers with the Violence Intervention Program said lack of access to tampons was mentioned repeatedly by the girls and young women they interviewed. According to the report, girls in detention said the sanitary pads they are provided with "were not good, uncomfortable or felt like they were sitting in their own blood. Many of them would prefer having tampons."

Young people in detention are already dealing with being separated from family and friends, and providing tampons would be "a relatively simple way to take a burden off them and improve morale," said report author Hailey Jures, director of special projects at the Violence Intervention Program. 

The Probation Department issued a statement in response to the report’s recommendations, saying it would "look into purchasing better quality pads." But the Department cited health concerns about providing tampons.

"According to Juvenile Court Health Services (JCHS), there is some concern regarding the usage of tampons," it said. "Some of the females are not aware how to use tampons and some severe complications or significant infections including toxic shock syndrome may result."

Jures says the risk of toxic shock syndrome from tampons appears to be low and that the tampons would be available "for people who want to use them, not everyone."

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the motion was part of what he called "a broader discussion" about restoring dignity to incarcerated people.

Access to tampons for those incarcerated depends on the type of institution. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which runs the state prison system, tampons "are kept in each housing unit and are available at all times for the female inmate population." Meanwhile, inmates in the Los Angeles County Jail are provided with sanitary pads free of charge, but tampons have to be purchased through the commissary.

"If you don’t have money on your books, you’re not able to get a tampon," says Herminia Galvez, an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition. "It’s very hard being a woman and being incarcerated and not being able to stay clean."