Women in Louisiana Prisons: Part 2
“In seeking to understand this gendered difference in the perception of prisoners, it should be kept in mind that as the prison emerged and evolved as the major form of public punishment, women continued to be routinely subjected to forms of punishment that have not been acknowledged as such…”
The story of justice involved women are too often ignored. In the United States, people adopt an out of sight, out of mind attitude/mindset in addressing its mass incarceration problems. Whenever a light is shone on the rampant injustices and miserable conditions of American prisons, male prisoners become the center of the discussion; however, this tendency entirely overlooks incarcerated females. Therefore, their experiences, needs, and incurred injustices are kept in the dark.
In Estelle v Gamble, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized that the “government has an obligation to provide medical care for those whom it is punishing by incarceration.” As previously mentioned nearly five percent of women entering jails and prisons are pregnant. These women deal with many threats to the safety of their pregnancy and their own health. However, the other 95% are facing their own healthcare threats. Despite the SCOTUS decision and Louisiana law, there are still many issues for incarcerated women trying to obtain healthcare.
I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of women who were previously housed at different jails and prisons in Louisiana, including Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW). Despite being interviewed separately and weeks apart, their stories were eerily similar. They both describe stories where healthcare is put on a back burner due to the fear of write-ups, or marks on their record. Many incarcerated women have avoided the prison infirmary despite their ailments because they feared they would be deemed as “faking it” and disciplined with “write-ups”. A write-up can be detrimental to an incarcerated person. It can negatively affect their good time calculations and parole eligibility. However sometimes, women take the risk of write-ups to exercise their rights under the law to receive healthcare. One of the women I interviewed recalled seeing three instances where a woman tried to get into the infirmary and was instead written up, only to be put on hospice a month later because there were no options left to save her. Delaying care through this process can be fatal for some inmates.
The Basic Necessities
Obtaining feminine hygiene products in prison is unnecessarily challenging. The women I interviewed told me that the women incarcerated at LCIW receive only 10 pads every month. These pads are thin and highly basic. There are several issues with the “10 pads per month” policy. For one, not every woman is comfortable wearing pads, some women prefer tampons or other products to control their periods. The flow and duration of each woman’s cycle is very different. While some women only need 10 pads during their entire cycle, other women may use up 10 pads in one day. So for the majority of women who need more than 10 pads and prefer tampons, they must buy these products from the prison canteen. However, some women cannot afford to purchase them. At LCIW, an inmate can purchase a small pack of pads for around $8, comparable to the very small pack available at a dollar store for a fraction of the price. An inmate’s family can put money into their account so that they can afford to buy these items, but many inmates do not have a family to support them in this way. So incarcerated women often are left with asking the guards to provide them with extra pads which increases the guard’s power over the inmates. American University professor Brenda V. Smith put it best when she said, “While prison officials get to control some aspects of a prisoner’s experience, control over an inmate’s bodily functions is not one of them.”
Legislators in New York passed a bill that says “all female inmates in the custody of the department shall be provided, at the department’s expense, with feminine hygiene products as soon as practicable upon request.” The bill was passed as part of the New York menstrual equity legislative package.
Lift Louisiana is currently working with Women With a Vision on a similar bill for the New Orleans City Council.
 429 U.S. 97. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15:827, La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15:831 provide that the Louisiana Department of Corrections must provide healthcare for those committed to a facility.