When criminal justice reformer and prison abolitionist Elisabeth Epps was herself sentenced to jail time, she took to Twitter to share her personal experience with the system she fights to change.
Out of that experience came the revelation – for herself and her followers – that menstrual hygiene products, for a myriad of reasons, often don’t make it into the hands of those who need them in jail.
Now, just a few months after Epps publicized the issue in January, there’s a bill being considered in Colorado’s legislature to fix the problem.
Epps, who runs the Colorado Freedom Fund, an organization focused on ending the cash bail system, was sentenced to 90 days in jail for interfering with a police officer back in 2015. After multiple appeals, Epps’ sentence was reduced to 27 days with work release, meaning she could continue working to bail low-income people and people of color out of jail during the day while returning to sleep in jail each night.
On the first day of her sentence, Epps got her period, she told 9NEWS, and didn’t get a menstrual hygiene product until her tenth day in custody.
That’s because Epps was required to order through commissary, and was at the mercy of their ordering and delivery schedule, which can take up to ten days.
Not having access to pads and tampons leads to poor menstrual hygiene, which can cause potentially deadly health outcomes, such as toxic shock syndrome. Advocates also argue it’s a matter of dignity and respect for female inmates.
The bill proposed in Colorado’s legislature would not only ensure that women have access to all types of menstrual hygiene products while in jail custody, but that they’re free of charge.
The bill, which is sponsored by State Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) and State Sen. Faith Winter (D-Westminster), reads:
“The majority of people in jail custody have few resources. If people in jail custody are able to purchase menstrual hygiene products at the jail’s commissary, the menstrual hygiene products are often unaffordable. In some jails, it takes time for money to be deposited for commissary use and for commissary privileges to effectuate.”
In 2017, lawmakers approved funding to provide tampons in state prisons (previously, only pads were available), but that didn’t apply to
“I’m glad my pain will be turned into dignity afforded to others,” Epps said in a Tweet.
“Firsthand experience is really important,” Rep. Herod told Denverite’s
The bill passed on a unanimous vote out of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, and is now up for a full House vote.