A Maine GOP lawmaker just said increased access to menstrual products would turn prisons into a 'country club'

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  • Maine Republican lawmaker Richard Pickett made a comment last week that providing female prisoners with comprehensive menstrual products would transform the prison system into “a country club.”
  • Pickett’s comments came during a hearing about a proposed Maine law that would guarantee access to sanitary pads and tampons for inmates across the state’s prisons and county jails.
  • Under a policy enacted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2017, all incarcerated individuals in federal prisons are guaranteed free menstrual products. But, that policy doesn’t apply to state prisons and county jails, where women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated people.
  • “This bill will ensure corrections officials aren’t tempted to deny prisoners basic hygiene products in order to save money or exert control over them,” Meagan Sway, policy counsel at the ACLU of Maine, told INSIDER. “People who have periods know that having adequate access to tampons is in no way comparable to a day at the country club.”

A proposed Maine law aimed at providing comprehensive access to menstrual products in all of the state’s jails and county prisons has stirred controversy among lawmakers – with one Republican state representative claiming that providing female prisoners with sanitary pads and tampons would transform the prison system into “a country club.”

GOP lawmaker Richard Pickett made the comment during a Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee meeting last week, according to a tweet by local reporter Alex Acquisto of the Bangor Daily News.

“Quite frankly, and I don’t mean this in any disrespect, the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club,” he said, according to Acquisto, who covered the meeting.

Pickett voted against the bill, which ultimately advanced 6-4 in Committee last Friday, arguing that inmates already had access to pads and tampons. John Bott, communications director for the Maine House Republicans, told INSIDER that Pickett doesn’t oppose menstrual hygiene products in prisons. Rather, he felt that the jail system was already doing a good job in providing menstrual products and that passing the law would be unneccessary.

“He made the country club remark,” Bott said, adding that, “But he’s not at all insinuating that having access to feminine hygiene products makes it a country club. That’s absurd.”

Proponents of the legislation say that Pickett’s comments are unfounded, adding that the bill is critical in ensuring all women, transgender, and nonbinary people can feel safe and dignified while incarcerated. A handful of other states, including Colorado, Arizona, and Maryland, have also bolstered rules around free access to menstrual products in state facilities.

“Lack of access to these basic necessities can have severe physical and psychological impacts on incarcerated menstruators,” Whitney Parrish, director of policy and program at Maine Women’s Lobby, told INSIDER. “This is a human rights issue and analogizing a correctional facility with increased access to menstrual products to a country club only stands to perpetuate potential harm and mistreatment on vulnerable individuals.”

Meagan Sway, policy counsel at the ACLU of Maine, added that “this bill will ensure corrections officials aren’t tempted to deny prisoners basic hygiene products in order to save money or exert control over them. People who have periods know that having adequate access to tampons is in no way comparable to a day at the country club.”

Under a policy enacted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2017, all incarcerated individuals in federal prisons are guaranteed free menstrual products. But, that policy doesn’t apply to state prisons and county jails, where women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated people, according to Parrish.

While most jails and prisons in Maine do provide free pads and tampons, the Press Herald reported, women must request the product as needed from officers, and prison policies for menstrual products can vary across facilities. The proposed bill would ensure that “any female person incarcerated in a jail or other county correctional facility has a right to comprehensive access to menstrual products,” according to the legislation.

“Despite some correctional institutions already having policies in place through their own rulemaking processes, they are not written into state law,” Parrish told INSIDER. “We want to guarantee that sound policy stays in place so that incarcerated individuals are not denied basic human rights due to staffing and administrative changes.”

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