Florida lawmakers address incarcerated women

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In talks about prison reform, one group has been significantly left out of the conversation: women.

A bill in the Florida Legislature will require new standards for feminine hygiene products in jails and prisons and put a stop to humiliating treatment by male correctional officers.

“For several years, the state and legislators has overlooked the fair and equitable provisions for incarcerated women — those include necessities such as feminine hygiene products. The bill also speaks to conduct and behavior of correctional officers and correctional employees at state and county facilities; to maintain the dignity of women we put in provision of restriction on who can do pat downs and who can do body cavity searches,” said Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, the Senate sponsor.

SB 332 and HB 49 would require correctional facilities to provide incarcerated women with certain health-care products in common housing areas and in medical-care facilities. It also includes restrictions on male correction employees and requires documentation of cavity searches and pat downs when conducted by a male guard.

Tray Johns is executive director and co-founder of FedFam4Life, a non-profit sisterhood dedicated to the restoration for women coming home from prison. She shared her experience while being incarcerated for nine years.

“I have not been incarcerated in the state of Florida, however. This bill is not exclusive to Florida. I am a male identifying female, I can recall a time while in prison, ten male correctional officers pat searched me successively as a joke. I have been strip searched by men correctional officers over 25 times to a point one time three of them was just standing around just looking at my body and making remarks which was very humiliating.”

She said this bill is long overdue.

According to Prison Policy Initiatives, despite recent reforms, the United States still incarcerates 698 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. Compared to that number, the women’s incarceration rate of 133 seems inconsequential. But it’s the highest incarceration rate for women in the world.

Only 4 percent of the world’s female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S. accounts for over 30 percent of the world’s incarcerated women.

Carolyn Council used to teach at the Gadsden County facility

“The pads that are given to the women are so thin, the women would create their own tampons out of the pads that they receive. The prison stuff is not well made, it is poorly created. People get rashes from things like the deodorant,” she said.

In some prisons women are denied adequate access to sanitary items forcing them to either purchase at the  commissary or go without proper hygiene supplies.

Valencia Gunder, of Miami, leads Dignity Florida . She was jailed in 2010 and uses her own jail experiences to evoke change.

“I can recall a time when I was in jail on my menstrual cycle and I was flowing extremely heavy from stressing. I was denied a pad, being forced to sit in your soaked clothes is extremely embarrassing and unhealthy.  I, for a long time, did not share my story because it was humiliating, I only started sharing my story in 2017. I learned about the Dignity for Incarcerated Act the moment I told that story,’’ said Valencia.