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Survey Reveals Sanitary Product Issues in Missouri Prisons

Medical supplies on table
Raw Pixel / Unsplash

A survey behind a proposal to provide women in Missouri prisons free access to sanitary products found that about 80% of respondents made their own tampons out of materials available to them.

Nonprofit Missouri Appleseed's survey found that a greater percentage of staff at the state's two female correctional facilities were aware of the practice, which can lead to infections and health issues.

About one in every four women who have used makeshift feminine hygiene products has had a corresponding vaginal infection, according to the study.

The survey has become a significant driver in a bill that's been awaiting a final vote on the House floor for several weeks, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

"This is such a basic need and a basic right that we treat people with dignity," said Republican Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, the bill's sponsor.

The proposal is also included in a separate bill pending in a Senate committee and in a criminal justice reform package that's awaiting a House vote.

The Missouri Department of Corrections currently supplies one size of menstrual pads for free, but inmates can purchase tampons and a variety of sanitary napkins. A box of 18 Always maxi pads with wings cost about $5.38 and a 20 pack of Tampax tampons costs $5.63.

According to the survey of 90 female offenders, the top reason that respondents didn't purchase the sanitary products at the prison store is because of the cost.

Inmates without a high school diploma earn just $7.50 a month. High school graduates earn $8.50 over a month.

Liza Weiss, the nonprofit's executive director, said the menstrual pads that are offered for free are "nonabsorbent."

"It's frankly not a product that anyone I know would willingly use if they had an alternative," Coleman added.

The Department of Corrections' biggest hurdle to making more sanitary products available to offenders is the cost.

The department estimated it would need to increase spending by nearly $171,700 if half of its nearly 3,100 female inmates requested tampons.

The proposed state budget had allocated additional funding to the department in an early draft. The budget proposal will be finalized over the upcoming weeks.