Arizona: Pass HB 2261 to Restore Dignity to Women Behind Bars
By Alexandria Hunt
Dynamite sticks. That’s what the male guards would joke about if we begged them for a few more tampons.
Others would swap jokes for pointed statements or humiliating questions. “You’re bleeding again?” “You sure need a lot of these.” The dehumanization took place daily.
I became a part of the justice system at age 20, after I’d been caught one too many times shoplifting. What I did was wrong, and I went into prison with the naive idea that the justice system must work like it should. You commit a crime. You serve your time. You get out. You move on with your life.
Over the nearly five years I spent in prison in Arizona, I saw that the system isn’t just broken, it is completely void of basic human dignity.
The lack of privacy of open living spaces made it easy for male guards to catch glimpses as we undressed. Daily hygiene items like soap, shampoo, pads, and tampons were reserved for those who could afford to pay. Women who came in pregnant gave birth while shackled to their beds, and saw their babies taken away moments later. Critical health services like postpartum screenings and menopause care were virtually nonexistent.
In a system built for men, there’s no mercy to be female.
In prison, there’s no choice between cardboard or plastic, Playtex or Tampax, travel size or value pack. The choice is toxic shock syndrome or a t-shirt that you turn into a makeshift pad. The choice is a phone call home to tell your baby you love them or a few more tampons to get you through your cycle. The choice is when to use your “ask” to see the doctor while pregnant—when you’re spotting now, or if it gets worse later.
For one friend, being pregnant in prison meant asking the guards to go to the hospital when her water broke, only to be doubted and turned away. After eventually giving birth while shackled to her hospital bed, she held her first born child for 20 minutes before he was taken from her.
For me, coming into prison 9 months postpartum meant total separation from my newborn son. After earning visitation rights months later, the next time I saw him was just after his first birthday. He was walking and doing things I wasn’t there to see the first time. When I reached for him, he clung to his father and cried, afraid to trust the bond we once shared.
Prisons weren’t designed for female bodies, and they are robbing women of basic human dignity as a result. We can’t continue on like this. Along with inhumane conditions and experiences no one would wish upon their own sister, wife, or mother, the system is failing to do its job. Rates of women behind bars in Arizona are skyrocketing, and the trauma of shackled births, prolonged family separation, and gross dehumanization is perpetuating the problem and worsening the cycle of mass incarceration across the state.
HB 2261 is an opportunity to change that, and to address many of the gaps of past legislation that have allowed the daily humiliation and mistreatment of women in prison to continue long after legislators return home. The bill passed the House with unanimous support, but still needs the Senate Judiciary Committee to act—and act soon. HB 2261 would begin the process of restoring dignity to women in Arizona facilities by:
- Ensuring free access to feminine hygiene products
- Abolishing the use of shackles on pregnant individuals before, during, and after delivery
- Allowing children to visit their parents up to two times a week
- Increasing access to postpartum, menopausal, and other critical healthcare services
Restoring dignity to incarcerated women is one of the most basic steps we can take to disrupt the costly cycle of incarceration draining critical resources across our state and restore dignity in the corners it has been neglected.
Join me in urging Senator Peterson to bring up HB 2261 for a hearing in your committee!
Sample Social Sharing: