I could never imagine the embarrassment or humiliation one would feel walking around a jail with no pants on, or being denied feminine hygiene products for my menstrual cycle. So to me, facing a judge while wearing no pants, with evidence of my menstrual cycle on my body, would feel like absolute torture.
That's what happened to a Kentucky woman who was sent to court wearing no pants while facing Judge Amber Wolf on July 29 for a sentencing hearing.
In a viral video that's resulting in outrage from social media users alike, a pantless unidentified woman can be seen explaining to Judge Wolf that she was arrested in Fayette County three days prior for failing to complete a diversion program for a first-time shoplifting charge.
During a court hearing, the woman explained to the judge that she was repeatedly denied pants and feminine hygiene products during her 3-day incarceration. This set Judge Wolf off.
"Am I in the Twilight Zone?" she questioned with a perplexed face. The judge immediately got on the phone to demand an explanation.
“Hi, Jenny, this is Judge Wolf in Court Room 102," she said. "I’m actually calling for Director Bolton, or anyone, uh, who can come to my courtroom and tell me why there is a female defendant standing in front of me with no pants on."
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the jail's assistant director, Steve Durham, refuted the idea that the woman was not wearing pants. He told the paper,
“The judge drew a conclusion she didn’t have pants on and didn’t do anything to confirm that...If we had taken somebody over with no pants on we should be held responsible. We didn't."
Durham also said that the unidentified woman was handled the same way as any of their other 32,000 inmates, and it's standard protocol to keep inmates "in the clothes they were wearing upon arrest for 72 hours." Perhaps she was also denied pants upon arrest. Who knows?
But the end result is that Judge Wolf rejected the 75-day sentence the woman was to receive, and gave her a $100 dollar fine, and credit for time served.
The central issue of the unidentified woman's case it that her Eighth Amendment rights were violated, which is in place to protect prisoner's basic constitutional rights to cleanliness. According to Broadly, Judges in 1989's Carver v. Knox County, Tennessee, 1997's Carty v. Farrelly and 2005's Atkins v. County of Orange all ruled that failing to provide or denying access to sanitary items violates the Eight Amendment, which enshrines a prisoner's right to a "basic human need"—i.e. toilet paper and menstrual products—in its Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.
On top of that, it's really easy to go to jail if you're a woman, whether it's for a minor violation or not. American Progress reports that the number of women incarcerated has grown by more than 800 percent in the last three decades, and it's far worse for women of color. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
Here are several other things that happens to women in jail that has also left the world outraged.
SOME WOMEN ARE FORCED TO WEAR THE SAME SANITARY NAPKIN FOR MORE THAN A DAY
Back in 2015, Chandra Bozelko wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian on how sanitary products were hard to come by during her stay at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut, where she spent more than six years. Chandra said that each cell holds two inmates, and each cell receives five pads per week. To split. She explained,
I’m not sure what they expect us to do with the fifth but this comes out to 10 total for each woman, allowing for only one change a day in an average five-day monthly cycle. The lack of sanitary supplies is so bad in women’s prisons that I have seen pads fly right out of an inmate’s pants: prison maxi pads don’t have wings and they have only average adhesive so, when a woman wears the same pad for several days because she can’t find a fresh one, that pad often fails to stick to her underwear and the pad falls out. It’s disgusting but it’s true.
Kotex Expert Molly O'Shea advises women to change their pads at least every 3-4 hours to keep odor and bacteria from growing in your blood, but that's not always a choice for inmates, especially ones who can not afford to buy sanitary products.
According to New York Magazine, most inmates can't afford to purchase pads, which costs $2.63 for a 24-pack. Especially when they have to use their pay to purchase other necessities, like deodorant ($1.93, or 3 days' pay), toothpaste ($1.50, or two days' pay). The cost of these basic needs are higher at some prisons, and thanks to privatized commissaries, a box of eight tampons can run you $4.23.
Thank goodness New York City Council passed provision to provide free menstrual supplies in all city public schools, prisons, and homeless shelters. But the rest of the country has a long way to go. In 2014, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit against Muskegon County for inadequately providing women inmates with feminine hygiene products, forcing inmates to routinely bleed through their clothes, and not providing them a change of clothes until laundry day. One officer told an inmate who asked for sanitary products that she was “sh*t out of luck” and “better not bleed on the floor.”
HAVING A BABY? THEN YOU SHOULD EXPECT TO BE SHACKLED DURING CHILDBIRTH
Women prisoners and youths are routinely shackled during pregnancy and childbirth, which endangers the lives of pregnant women which puts her at risk for blood clots, miscarriages, or accidental trips or falls. Shackles can also interfere with appropriate medical care for women delivering babes.
22 states, plus DC, have laws regulating shackled pregnant women, but thanks to loopholes, it's still happening.
SEXUAL ASSAULT AT THE HANDS OF PRISON GUARDS IS REAL
A 2014 Bureau of Justice study reported that of the 8,763 allegations of prisoner sexual victimization between 2009 and 2011, 49 percent of the unwanted sexual misconduct or harassment involved prison staff as perpetrators.
Bradley W. Brockmann, executive director of The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University told ABC News that although the study showed that there was a rise in inmate sex abuse, those cases are just a drop in the bucket compared to the "sexual victimization that goes on daily."
"What happens behind those walls generally stays behind them," Brockman said. "For somebody to speak out takes immense courage."
Did you know that you could donate sanitary products for prisoners, tax free? Log on to awomansworthinc.org/donate to find out more on how you can help be a beacon of hope for incarcerated women who needs underwear and basic sanitary products.