Virginia Suspends Policy Banning Tampons for Visitors After Public Outcry

On Tuesday, September 25, a day after Truthout’s report on a new policy banning visitors to Virginia prisons from wearing tampons or menstrual cups contributed to growing outrage over the policy, the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Brian J. Moran, posted on Twitter that the ban would be immediately suspended “until further review.”

Moran tweeted: “Though the policy has not taken effect and is scheduled for October 6, I feel it appropriate to immediately suspend the newly developed policy until a more thorough review of its implementation and potential consequences are considered.”

“At the moment, we’re going through a thorough review to see what the next steps are,” Asif Bhavnagri, Policy Advisor to the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, told Truthout. “Hopefully, in the coming weeks we’ll have more to report on that front.”

The ACLU of Virginia welcomed the suspension but noted that Secretary Moran’s tweets indicate that there is the possibility of the policy being implemented at a later date.

“We’re glad Secretary Moran agreed with us that this demeaning, inhumane policy should not move forward,” Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications for the ACLU of Virginia, wrote in an email to Truthout. “That said, it is worth noting that the suspension is only in effect ‘until a more thorough review of its implementation and potential consequences are considered,’ according to the Secretary’s tweets, which hardly sounds like the matter is closed. We’re appreciative of the Secretary’s action today, but he needs to take this absurd, cruel and degrading idea off the table permanently.”

On Monday, September 24, Truthout had reported that a new Department of Corrections policy would forbid visitors to Virginia prisons from using tampons or menstrual cups. The notice articulating the now suspended policy states, in part:

As a result of recent inquiries in regards to feminine products being an ideal way to conceal contraband, effective October 6, 2018, the use of tampons or menstrual cups are no longer to be worn during visitation. The use of tampons and or menstrual cup hygiene items during visitation are prohibited.

Offender visitors who have been recognized by the body scanner machine having a foreign object that could possibly be a tampon and has failed to remove such item prior to being screened, will have their visitation terminated for the day and will have their visitation privileges reviewed.

Carole Leonard, founder of Prison Reform Movement, who first posted the notice to Twitter, welcomed news of the suspension but urged that those concerned “remain vigilant on this issue.”

“Changes from the Department of Corrections can happen at any time without notice as the loved ones of Virginia prisoners experienced,” Leonard wrote to Truthout.

The Virginia Department of Corrections had defended the ban in an email to Truthout on Monday, September 24, stating that: “In consultation with the Attorney General’s office, it was decided that facilities would offer pads to women who are wearing tampons while visiting a prison so the tampons don’t appear as possible contraband on a body scan. When potential contraband is seen on a body scan, visitors are offered the choice of a strip search or leaving the facility without visiting with an inmate. This policy aims to help visitors avoid that altogether.”

Truthout reached out to the Virginia Department of Corrections and the Office of the Attorney General for comment on the suspension Monday night but has not yet received responses.