Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety is suspending a controversial prison policy before it takes effect. Officials had planned to ban women visiting prisons from using tampons, because they claimed those sanitary products could be used to smuggle-in contraband.
ACLU Director Claire Gastenaga first heard about the proposed policy against tampons when she got an e-mail from the Director of the Department of Corrections claiming there was no such policy, but as the day wore on Gastenaga heard that a ban would be imposed on October 6th.
“They do have a policy, and it’s requiring that people who are menstruating not use tampons, and that they require those people, if they want to come and visit, to switch to a sanitary napkin,” she says.
Prison spokeswoman Lisa Kinney explained that visitors had tried to smuggle drugs by concealing them in body cavities, and prisoners had died of drug overdoses. When contraband was seen on a body scan, she added, visitors were offered the choice of a strip search or leaving without visiting an inmate. Imposing a ban on tampons would she argued, eliminate that problem.
But Claire Gastenaga said invading privacy could also discourage visits, and that would be a mistake.
“People who are incarcerated do much better and are more likely to transition to the community if they maintain their connections with family and friends.”
And, she argued, this policy wouldn’t solve the problem.
“Everything I read suggests that most of the contraband that comes into prison comes in via their own employees, so maybe they should deal with that first.”
Kinney said body scanners are used at eight of the state’s prisons, and they detected 62 incidents of contraband over the last 19 months – 58 involving visitors and only two involving staff. While he shared her concern for prison security, state Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran announced Tuesday that he was suspending the policy pending a review.