RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Women who visit inmates at Virginia prisons will be barred from wearing tampons or menstrual cups under a new policy stemming from concerns about contraband, the state Department of Corrections said Monday.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections said the policy set to become effective next month is aimed at preventing contraband — including drugs —from being smuggled into prisons.
"If someone chooses to visit a Virginia Department of Corrections inmate, he or she cannot have anything hidden inside a body cavity," spokeswoman Lisa Kinney wrote in an email.
Kinney said that after the DOC consulted with the state 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."
Inmate advocates sharply criticized the policy, saying it violates the privacy rights of female visitors.
"That's such a violation," said Jana White, a co-founder of the Virginia Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth who makes regular visits to see an inmate at Sussex II State Prison in Waverly, Virginia.
"I can't understand why we, the loved ones, have to go through this," said White.
Kinney said that when potential contraband is seen on a body scan, visitors are offered the choice of a strip search or leaving the prison without visiting with an inmate. She said the new policy "aims to help visitors avoid that altogether."
"Offenders in Virginia have died of drug overdoses while inside our prisons. It's our job to keep the offenders and staff as safe as we can," she wrote.
In a Sept. 20 letter sent to visitors and inmates at the Nottoway Correctional Center, Warden David Call said the policy stems from concerns that the feminine hygiene products could be "an ideal way to conceal contraband."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia urged DOC Chief Harold Clarke to reverse the policy.
"A policy like this one that requires those who wish to visit people who are incarcerated to set aside their dignity and health is simply unacceptable," the ACLU said in a statement.
In March 2017, the nation's largest private prison operator reached an agreement with two women in Tennessee who sued after they were ordered to remove tampons or sanitary pads to prove they were menstruating and not trying to smuggle in contraband. The woman sued Corrections Corp. of America, now named CoreCivic, and officers at South Central Correctional Facility, alleging that guards made them expose their genitals.
The company had argued that it can require women to replace their tampons or pads if they reasonably suspect visitors are bringing in contraband. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed.