Arizona Inmates Get Free Pads, Tampons; Health Care Concerns Remain At Perryville Prison
Earlier this year at the Arizona Legislature, a committee of all male lawmakers heard testimony on feminine hygiene in state prisons.
Rep. Athena Salman introduced a bill that would have given women in Arizona prisons unlimited access to free pads and tampons.
While the bill ultimately failed, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) changed its policy. Department Director Charles Ryan issued a “Director’s Instruction” on Feb. 14, tripling the amount of sanitary napkins given to inmates from 12 to 36 each month.
Inmates now also have a choice between pads and tampons.
Policy Change Made A 'Huge Difference'
Angela Ashworth has been an inmate in the Perryville women's prison since December 2016. In a phone interview from prison conducted on March 21, Ashworth said the new policy has made a huge difference.
“If [inmates] don’t have the products they need, they’re leaving a mess — you got the blood contamination you have to worry about. You got to worry about diseases. You got to worry about all of that. So now that’s cut back.”
Ashworth sid the women no longer have to ration the pads and can use products as they are intended.
“They’re not wearing a pad all day either. They’re able to change it because they have the product,” she said.
Ashworth said before the policy change raised the standard, poor hygiene was having a negative impact on many of the women.
“Because when you don’t have that standard, then you’re depressed. You’re giving up. You’re not fighting the battles. You don’t care about yourself.”
Ashworth said this kind of mentality can lead to unsafe conditions at the prison.
“If you’re depressed, if you’re down, if you feel beaten up or you feel that you’re not worthy, you’re not safe because you can’t think straight," said Ashworth.
Allegations Of Abuse
Ashworth said despite the policy change, challenges remain, including alleged abuse by ADC staff.
“Some of the officers really do try to have dignity, and try to treat you with respect, but then you have your handful that don’t," she said.
She said she recently filed a grievance against staff for calling inmates names.
“The abuse was beyond comprehension. We were called crackheads, whores, knuckleheads, circus clowns, you name it.”
Ashworth said the demeaning treatment can have a significant impact on the inmates, who already suffer from a low sense of self-worth.
“They believe it,” Ashworth said of the name-calling. “Some of these girls in here have been beat up, they’ve been raped, they’ve been kidnapped. There are certain things that have happened to them in their lives —so it just brings that back and brings back all that anger or that depression or suicide or whatever they were feeling at the time.”
Health Care Challenges Remain
For 25 weeks in 2017, there was no medical director at Perryville. Corizon Health is contracted by the state to staff the medical facilities at the 10 state-run prisons. Ashworth said the vacancy caused delays in specialty care.
“If you don’t have somebody in place to write to contact then you have no resources to get what you need,” she said.
Ashworth also believes the lack of a medical director had an impact on accountability at the prison clinic.
“Who’s holding the doctors accountable? Who’s holding the nurse practitioners accountable? Who’s holding this whole process accountable?” she asked.
Ashworth said the doctors and nurses at the clinic appear to be understaffed and overwhelmed, which has a broader impact on the prison.
“It affects the officers too because here in turn now the officers get punished because someone is sick and they weren’t seen or whatever so it’s all the way down the chain. It affects everybody.”
Overall, Ashworth described the health care system in Arizona prisons as “a mess.” She said if the people in leadership positions at ADC and Corizon want to make things better, they should focus on one thing: compassion.
“Would you want your family going to a doctor that’s understaffed, not knowledgeable, doesn’t know the health care itself?” she asked.
Ashworth urges the public to recognize that most of the inmates in Perryville will one day be released back into their communities, and they will bring their afflictions with them.
“Whether it’s a disease, whether it’s mental, whatever it is, it’s going to affect the community when they get out.”