Virginia to ban women from wearing tampons while visiting prisons

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Women visiting inmates in state prisons will no longer be allowed to wear tampons under a new policy that goes into effect next month.

Officials said the policy, enforced using body scanners, aims to crack down on contraband.

“If someone chooses to visit a Virginia Department of Corrections inmate, he or she cannot have anything hidden inside a body cavity,” said department spokeswoman Lisa Kinney in a statement. “There have been many instances in which visitors have attempted to smuggle drugs into our prisons by concealing those drugs in a body cavity, including the vagina.”

She said the department consulted with the Attorney General’s office and decided “that facilities would offer pads to women who are wearing tampons while visiting a prison so the tampons don’t appear as possible contraband on a body scan.”

In a letter distributed to “offenders and visitors” at the 1,400-bed Nottoway Correctional Center in central Virginia, Warden D.W. Call writes that if the facility’s body scanner detects that a visitor is using a tampon, the visit “will be terminated for the day and (the visitor) will have their visitation privileges reviewed.”

Tampon policies in prisons elsewhere have faced legal challenges. Private prison contractor CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, settled a lawsuit last year brought by women in Nashville who said guards ordered  them to remove their tampons or sanitary pads to prove they were menstruating and not attempting to smuggle in contraband, according to the Associated Press.

In a statement, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga called on the state to “reverse any policy or practice that limits the visitation rights of visitors who are menstruating without regard to which hygiene product they choose to use.”

“Helping people who are housed in jail or prison stay connected to friends, families, and communities is critical to rehabilitation and eventual, successful re-entry to society,” she said in a statement. “Any policy that discourages visitors is, therefore, one that should be subject to the most exacting and careful review.”

The Department of Corrections, meanwhile, argued the policy comes down to safety: “Offenders in Virginia have died of drug overdoses while inside our prisons,” Kinney wrote. “It’s our job to keep the offenders and staff as safe as we can. We know that people who have loved ones in Virginia prisons don’t want visitors to be able to smuggle in lethal drugs, putting their loved ones’ lives in danger.”

This story has been updated with a statement from the Department of Corrections.