'Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act' Awaits Governor's Signature
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Incarcerated women could soon be guaranteed access to basic hygiene products, like pads and tampons, under a bill awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis's signature. Growing complaints about the treatment of women behind bars has caught state lawmakers' attention and prompted passage of the "Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act." It would require prisons and jails to make feminine-hygiene products available "at no cost to the woman, and in a quantity that is appropriate" for her needs.

The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Amy Mercado – D-Orlando, says she's heard of cases where sanitary products are withheld as punishment, or are low quality and don't meet basic needs.

"Some women have incredibly heavy periods on a monthly basis,” says Mercado. “Sometimes they have irregular periods, and one month it's regular flow and another month is extra heavy. And there are distinct products available for said flow. You know, the brand doesn't necessarily matter, what matters is the quality of it."

Some institutions have defended their practice of providing basic care items, including soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, but House Bill 49 – which has received near-unanimous support – now calls for them to be available "in common housing areas," so that women don't have to request them from guards.

The proposal also bans male corrections officers from entering showers, restrooms or other places where incarcerated women may be undressed.

"We're trying to ensure that incarcerated women are protected, as well as the officers, and make sure that no pat-downs are being down by the opposite sex whenever necessary or whenever possible,” says Mercado. “Because there have been multiple complaints and situations, that then become much more challenging for all involved."

While some of these policies are already in place in some facilities, Mercado says the law would ensure a uniform standard throughout the state. Mercado says she expects the governor will sign the bill.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL

May 10, 2019

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A weekly podcast focusing on the people and stories shaping Florida politics produced by Trimmel Gomes an award-winning journalist and former statewide news director of Florida Public Radio. Gomes hosted its flagship program "Capital Report" and created the public affairs program "It's About Florida." Gomes is political commentator and regular political contributor to WTXL ABC 27 in Tallahassee.


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