Virginia Prisons Ban Tampons for Women Visiting Inmates Over Fears of Concealed Contraband

Nottoway Correctional Center
Women visiting Virginia prisons, including the Nottoway Correctional Center pictured here, will no longer be allowed to wear tampons or menstrual cups during their visits. The new policy takes effect in October. Google Maps

Virginia prisons took new measures to curb concealed contraband. The Virginia Department of Corrections announced that female visitors would no longer be allowed to wear tampons or menstrual cups when visiting inmates.

The policy change, which was announced in a September 17 memorandum to administrators and wardens, would take effect in October.

"As a result of recent inquiries about feminine hygiene products being an ideal way to conceal contraband…offender visitors shall be notified that the use of tampons or menstrual cup products are no longer permitted to be worn during visitation," wrote the Departmen of Corrections Chief of Operations David Robinson in a memorandum.

Lisa Kinney, the department's spokeswoman, told the Richmond Times Dispatch that facilities would offer pads to female visitors wearing tampons. This way the tampons would not appear as possible contraband on a body scan.

"The policy regarding visitors' body cavities aims to keep contraband from entering prison facilities," Kinney wrote. When potential contraband is spotted on a body scan, visitors can choose to undergo a strip search or leave the facility without visiting an inmate.

"If someone chooses to visit a Virginia Department of Corrections inmate, he or she cannot have anything hidden inside a body cavity," Kinney added. "There have been many instances in which visitors have attempted to smuggle drugs into our prisons by concealing those drugs in a body cavity, including the vagina."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has criticized the policy change, calling it "discriminatory and humiliating."

"Helping people who are housed in jail or prison stay connected to friends, families and communities is critical to rehabilitation and eventual, successful re-entry to society," ACLU Virginia said in an emailed statement to Newsweek.

This policy is not only invasive, it is discriminatory and humiliating. We'll continue to speak out until @VADOC treats people who are incarcerated and their families with the dignity and respect they rightfully deserve.

— ACLU of Virginia (@ACLUVA) September 25, 2018

The statement continued: "Any policy that discourages visitors is, therefore, one that should be subject to the most exacting and careful review. In addition, 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 of Virginia called on Department Director Harold Clarke to clarify the policy for visitors at state prisons and to direct wardens to reverse any policy that "limits the visitation rights of visitors who are menstruating without regard to which hygiene product they choose to use."

Kinnney told the Richmond Times Dispatch that contraband was detected 62 times by the body scanner from February 1, 2017, to August 31 of this year. Of those cases, 58 involved people visiting inmates.

Female staff members are exempt from the new policy, she said.