Prison officials say they’re still blocking women wearing tampons from full visitation privileges over contraband concerns

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Women wearing tampons are still being denied full visitation privileges at some Virginia prisons, Department of Corrections officials told lawmakers Thursday.

The department announced in September that women wearing tampons would either be strip-searched or turned away from visitations as part of a bid to crack down on contraband like drugs. They quickly walked back the policy after widespread national news coverage.

But department officials say women wearing tampons are still being treated differently at 10 facilities where body scanners that can detect foreign objects are in use. When those scanners detect an object and the visitor tells them it’s a tampon, they’re only allowed to continue the visitation on a no-contact basis, either through a glass partition or video feed, said Margie Vargo, who oversees the DOC’s visitation polices.

“We can’t tell what’s in someone as they go through a body scanner,” she told lawmakers. “We just can’t tell if it’s drugs or a tampon. It just shows if there’s something wrong.”

The DOC explained the new policy during a hearing in the House of Delegates on legislation filed by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, that would direct the department to “revise such policies as necessary to permit such visitors to wear tampons or menstrual cups.”

DOC officials said they didn’t believe their new policy would conflict with that directive and the subcommittee hearing it moved it forward to the House’s full committee on public safety.

The ACLU of Virginia, one of several advocacy groups that opposed the initial tampon ban, said the new approach remains problematic.

“We would still consider that to be discriminatory,” said Bill Farrar, the group’s director of communications. “You’re singling out a group of people who are menstruating on the basis of their sex.”