The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a motion that would provide girls in the county’s system of juvenile detention camps with greater access to better personal hygiene items, an issue that was brought to light in a report from the Violence Intervention Program (VIP).
Girls doing time in the camps are not allowed to use tampons, and until recently were only issued paper underwear which, when combined with poor quality maxi-pads, was a particularly unpleasant experience for menstruating teens.
“The girls said, ‘It’s like sitting in your own blood all day; I might as well be wearing a diaper,’” said Hailey Jures, director of special programs for VIP in Los Angeles and one of the researchers who interviewed the 15 girls locked up in county camps for the report.
The reason tampons are forbidden? Risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare bacterial infection that can result from improper use of tampons, viral infections like the flu or chicken pox, or surgery. It affects about one in 100,000 women.
Jures and her team interviewed 104 boys and girls in county camps about their experiences there, asking about everything from food to safety, school and mental health services. The 7,700 pages of data collected were boiled down to a set of 49 recommendations for the county’s Probation Department. The report was released last November.
“Probation was very eager to learn about this because this wasn’t really our opinion,” Jures said. “The whole report … is just the voice of the kids.”
According to the report, the Probation Department has already begun to implement several of issues raised in the report, including providing girls with cloth undergarments and individual garment bags to keep their personal items separate from those of other girls when being laundered.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will vote on a motion issued by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas to “promote dignity” for incarcerated girls by addressing issues raised in the report, including standardizing policies related to birth control, issuing higher quality personal hygiene items like toothbrushes and deodorant, and ensuring proper prenatal and postpartum care for young mothers under the county’s supervision.
The report also included an estimation by a Probation Department staff member that 30 percent of girls in the department’s camps and halls are pregnant or already mothers. A deputy probation officer at Camp Munz suggested that 20 percent of boys in the camps and halls were fathers.
“In terms of birth control, one of the things that we recommend, which is showing up in this motion, is a standardized policy because one of the things we’re seeing from the kids is that it’s not standardized and/or it’s not being explained in a standardized fashion,” Jures said.
The supervisors are also requesting that the Probation Department implement an educational strategy that will ensure girls know how to use feminine hygiene products, presumably to reduce the chance of toxic shock syndrome and other complications should tampons be allowed.
“There’s a lot of stuff that can be done pretty simply, pretty cost effectively,” Jures said.
If the Board of Supervisors elects to pass the motion, Probation Department Chief Terri McDonald would have 60 days to report back to the board “on updated policies and protocols” related to the issues raised in the report.