Tampons aren’t a luxury. They should be free to County Jail inmates who need them

Boxes of tampons are displayed in a pharmacy, Monday, March 7, 2016, in New York.
Boxes of tampons are displayed in a pharmacy, Monday, March 7, 2016, in New York. AP

What sadistic man came up with this rule?

Women at the San Luis Obispo County Jail can have menstrual pads for free, but if they want tampons, they have to purchase them from the commissary — for considerably more than they cost on the outside.

And that’s not just here in San Luis Obispo County; other county jails in the state follow that archaic practice as well.

Bay Area attorney Paula Canny is out to change that, starting with San Luis Obispo County. She filed a lawsuit this week against Sheriff Ian Parkinson, the Sheriff’s Office and SLO County. It demands the County Jail stop charging for tampons, and refund money to those inmates who have been purchasing them.

Canny’s on a mission; she says she’ll take the fight to other counties as well, until all female inmates in California have access to the free supplies of their choice. (At least two counties, San Francisco and San Mateo, already offer free tampons, Canny said.)

We can almost hear the howls of outrage from those champions of law-and-order who complain about the “coddling” of jail inmates: “A lawsuit!” “Over tampons!”

First of all, let us point out that not all women in jail are convicted criminals. Some are awaiting trial and are in jail because they can’t afford bail. For the moment, their “crime” is being poor.

So, yes, a lawsuit over tampons — though it shouldn’t take such a drastic step for jails to enact this common-sense measure.

Tampons aren’t some luxury item like peanuts or playing cards. They are critical to hygiene, as a number of agencies are recognizing. Federal prisons now issue both free tampons and pads, and some states have either started doing so as well or are considering it — just last month, Arizona announced it would start providing both products for free.

So why doesn’t San Luis Obispo? Is this some punitive measure? Or is about cutting costs?

If so, it’s a lousy way to economize, since a check of retail prices shows the two products are similarly priced or, in some cases, tampons are actually less expensive — as low as 15 cents each on Amazon. (We asked the county Sheriff’s Office for its cost figures but have not gotten a response.)

The county charges inmates $3.23 for a box of 10 tampons, or around 32 cents each.

That, according to Canny, is a violation of a section of Title 15 of the California Administrative Code: “Each female inmate shall be issued sanitary napkins and/or tampons as needed.”

Canny takes that to mean that both pads and tampons should be supplied, free of charge.

SLO County Counsel Rita Neal disagrees; she says the Sheriff’s Office is complying by making pads available for free.

Please, don’t let this wind up in some crazy court fight where teams of lawyers spend days debating the definition of “and/or.”

Do the right thing, Sheriff Parkinson, and put this lawsuit to rest by providing inmates of the Women’s Jail with as many free tampons and pads as they need.

And while you’re at it, find a cheaper supplier because county taxpayers shouldn’t be paying more for this essential than any random person would online or at the store.

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