Feminine Hygiene in Prisons and Jails: Inadequate menstrual hygiene products correlate with infections and negative mental health outcomes for women. With funding from the Missouri Foundation for Health, Missouri Appleseed began in late 2017 to research the state of access to menstrual hygiene products in Missouri’s two state prisons for women. Almost a year later, Missouri Appleseed submitted its research findings to the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC). The report found that the pads provided free to women in Missouri’s prisons were not large or absorbent enough to meet women’s hygiene needs, and that many incarcerated women had been making unsanitary homemade tampons to manage their menstruation. In response, several lawmakers filed bills to improve access to menstrual products in both Missouri’s prisons and its county jails, and MDOC requested budget funds from the state to purchase adequate-quality pads and tampons. Both the Missouri house and senate approved funds for improved products.
Missouri Appleseed is now expanding its research on menstrual hygiene products for incarcerated women to Missouri’s local jails.
Mental Health Law Survey and Education: Serious mental illness is much more common among justice-involved individuals than among the general population. Nevertheless, most law students do not receive specific instruction on mental illness or mental health law, and research suggests that lawyers who lack experience with mental illness are reluctant to take on mentally ill clients.
In collaboration with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jacqueline Landess of St. Louis University Medical School, Missouri Appleseed recently conducted a survey of the Missouri Criminal Bar about mental illness and mental health law: education, attitudes, and personal and professional experiences. Based on survey responses, Missouri Appleseed and Dr. Landess designed a series of free workshops to supplement the Bar’s knowledge on mental health, legal competency, and special sentencing for the mentally ill. The first workshop took place at St. Louis University Law School on July 19th, 2019.
Medicaid Suspension for Incarcerated People: Until the 2019 legislative session, it was Missouri law to terminate an individual’s Medicaid if that individual was incarcerated, whether pre-trial or post-conviction. Most states only suspend Medicaid for incarcerated individuals. Suspension as opposed to termination allows incarcerated people to reactivate their health insurance immediately upon their release, maintaining access to treatment and medication essential to their physical and mental health. Individuals leaving confinement with access to health care are less likely to return to jail or prison than individuals who reenter society without access.
During the 2019 legislative session, Missouri Appleseed worked with St. Louis University law students, psychiatrists, and nonprofits to understand the legal reasoning behind Missouri’s termination policy and to develop policy recommendations that would better serve Missourians reentering society. Its staff also testified in favor of Missouri state bills legislating Medicaid suspension rather than termination. On May 16, 2019, Missouri Senate Bill 514 was truly agreed to and finally passed with language shifting Missouri’s policy from termination to suspension.
Missouri Appleseed will continue to work to ensure individuals reentering society have access to health care by monitoring Missouri’s implementation of Senate Bill 514. Successful implementation will require communication and collaboration on the state and local level.
Visitation Rights of Children with Incarcerated Parents: As of 2010, more than half of all people incarcerated in the U.S. had minor children. Parental incarceration correlates with children’s subsequent delinquency, mental health problems, and other adverse experiences. While high-quality visitation of incarcerated parents may reduce negative outcomes for children, prison visitation is often poor-quality, logistically difficult, and expensive. Moreover, some children are denied visitation with their incarcerated parents solely on the basis of the parent’s incarceration.
Missouri Appleseed and the law firm Stinson LLP are working together to research current law, policy, and practices in Missouri and to educate stakeholders and decision makers about current research on the benefits of maintaining parent-child relationships even during a parent’s incarceration.