Tampons should be free in all county jails — and in all public schools, too

Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton’s Market, in Sacramento, on June 22, 2016.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton’s Market, in Sacramento, on June 22, 2016. The Associated Press

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office did the right thing in agreeing to provide free tampons to women at the County Jail; previously women were issued sanitary pads for free, but had to buy tampons from the commissary.


This is 21st century America. The era when women had to speak euphemistically about “that time of the month” is over.

We just hope the free-the-tampon movement spreads to other counties and becomes common practice throughout California’s penal system.

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Officials led a tour on Monday, March 27, 2017, of the new San Luis Obispo County Women’s Jail, which at 36,000 square feet is four times the size of the existing facility. The $40 million facility opens April 6.

Because let’s face it: If men got periods, this never would have been an issue. And it certainly would not have required a lawsuit to make it happen.

That lawsuit, by the way, is not quite over. Paula Canny, the attorney representing jail inmates, wants SLO County to state in writing that it will permanently provide tampons and pads free of charge to jail inmates.

She points out that even though County Jail is now giving women free tampons and pads, that practice is susceptible to change.

She’s right. She’s also correct when she points out that male sheriffs (and yes, the vast majority of sheriffs in California are men) should not be making decisions about women’s menstrual needs.

As we’ve said before, tampons aren’t some luxury item from the jail commissary, like peanuts or playing cards. They are critical to hygiene, as a number of agencies are finally recognizing.

Federal prisons now issue both free tampons and pads, and some states have started doing so as well. Even Arizona, which is not exactly known for its progressive treatment of inmates, makes tampons and pads free.

And it’s not only penal systems that are changing their policies. Some states have passed legislation requiring free tampons and pads in public schools. California, for example, now requires them in all schools that meet certain low-income criteria, while the state of New York makes the products free in all its schools, grades 6-12.

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New York Gov. Mario Cuomo pointed out in a tweet that menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper and soap.

He’s absolutely right about that.

So, California, you made a good first step in requiring free menstrual supplies at schools with large populations of low-income students. Now we need to extend that to all schools, regardless of income level.

As for San Luis Obispo County, we urge you to be a model for other counties. Put that County Jail policy regarding free tampons in writing.