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County Supervisors Vote To Ensure Tampon Access For Juvenile Detainees

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Uniforms worn by girls in Los Angeles County Probation Department’s camps and juvenile halls. In the middle is the paper underwear that they have to wear. (Photo courtesy of Supervisor Hilda Solis)
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The L.A. County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion on Tuesday that would provide access to tampons for girls and young women in juvenile detention, according to Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. The motion also calls for the L.A. County Probation Department to provide undergarments made of better material, improve prenatal and postpartum care, and offer greater access to sexual health resources, reports KPCC.

Tampons had previously not been allowed because of concerns around toxic shock syndrome (a rare infection caused by improper use). Jures told KPCC that the risk of toxic shock would be low, because the tampons would be available "for people who want to use them, not everyone."

Current health conditions for young incarcerated women in Los Angeles are grim, as documented by the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) in 2016. According to their report, researchers found that girls and young women were handed underwear made of paper. They also had no access to tampons, and were instead issued poor quality maxi-pads. "The girls said, ‘It’s like sitting in your own blood all day; I might as well be wearing a diaper,’” Hailey Jures, director of special programs for VIP, saidaccording to The Chronicle of Social Change.

The factors combined for an experience that wasn't just unhygienic, but also degrading. As noted in the motion, for the detainees "Incarceration and removal from their families and communities can be a traumatic experience." Solis and Ridley-Thomas say that helping them "maintain a sense of dignity" would "help them focus on their education, self-sufficiency, and rehabilitation."

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Another finding in the VIP report was that 30% of the girls detained are pregnant or are already mothers. As such, the motion instructs the Probation Department to revise its policies that pertain to prenatal, delivery and postpartum care, breast feeding, and maternal-child education. The department is also called to expand access to a larger scope of family planning and sexual health programs.

Access to tampons varies across the different corrections facilities. Tampons are available for the incarcerated at Los Angeles County Jail, but these must be purchased (pads are free). "If you don't have money on your books, you're not able to get a tampon," Herminia Galvez, an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, told KPCC. "It’s very hard being a woman and being incarcerated and not being able to stay clean."

Recently, the Probation Department has been hit with a number of allegations that point to unsanitary conditions at its facilities. In March of 2016, one report said that the L.A. County Central Juvenile Hall was "deplorable" and had conditions similar to a "Third World country prison," according to the L.A. Times. The report also said that some children were kept in detention units that had no running water.

There are currently about 1,100 young people incarcerated in county juvenile detention centers or camps, and 167 of them are female.