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St. Louis County Jail Offers Pads And Tampons To Inmates Free Of Charge

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County jail will now provide inmates with better menstrual pads and tampons free of charge.

County Executive Sam Page last week signed an executive order making the change after a survey from the nonprofit Missouri Appleseed found inmates couldn’t afford the products they needed.

The Buzz Westfall Justice Center had provided low-cost pads for free, but women had said they were ineffective. They could buy higher-quality pads at the jail canteen, but many couldn’t afford them. The jail did not provide tampons of any kind.

Many of the women in the jail are there because they can’t afford bond, said Liza Weiss, executive director of Missouri Appleseed, the nonprofit that conducted the survey. Even if they have a small amount of money to spend inside jail, they can’t always spend it on pads.

“If they do have some funds,” she said, “what will they use them for? Will they use them to call their children, or will they use them to buy pads?”

Inmates who could not afford pads and tampons told surveyors they made their own products using material from the low-quality pads as well as bedsheets, toilet paper or socks. Three-fourths of inmates surveyed reported using these homemade products, and more than a quarter said that they developed infections as a result.

Women are being incarcerated at higher rates than in the past, Weiss said. But jails and prisons are still built and operated with men in mind.

“Really, jails and prisons and administrations have not thoughtfully changed jails to meet the needs of women,” she said.

Many states, including Missouri, don’t have laws requiring jails to provide inmates with free pads and tampons. Federal prisons require inmates have access to a variety of menstrual products.

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.