Category: Commonwealth Magazine

We need to talk about periods – Bill would make menstrual products available in schools, shelters, prisons

IN 2014 a German nongovernmental organization called WASH United dubbed May 28 “International Menstrual Hygiene Day” to raise visibility around the daily struggle many people face with menstrual hygiene management. The date was chosen intentionally as a reference to the average length of the menstrual cycle – 28 days.

Since then nine states in the US have exempted tampons from taxation, acknowledging that the state budget should not be funded by a cost borne by only half the population. In 2016, New York City passed legislation to make menstrual products available in all public schools, shelters, and prisons. And, just a few months ago, we saw a short documentary, Period. End of Sentence, take home an Academy Award and watched the filmmakers give an impassioned acceptance speech about the need for better menstrual health education and access to menstrual products across the globe.

Right here in Massachusetts, Somerville, New Bedford, and Brookline student activists are organizing to demand that bathrooms be stocked with menstrual products. And town meeting in Brookline voted last week to do just that. It can’t be denied that the menstrual equity movement is growing.

Today, our Massachusetts Legislature has an opportunity to lead the country in menstrual equity legislation by passing Mass NOW’s new bill, An Act to Increase Access to Disposable Menstrual Products in Prisons, Homeless Shelters, and Public Schools. (It’s nicknamed the “I AM. Bill.”) The bill, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville and Reps.  Jay Livingstone of Boston and Christine Barber of Somerville, contains language to ensure the products are truly accessible without stigmatizing the individual seeking them.

As it stands, over 70 legislators have signed on in support of our bill and more than 40 menstrual activists, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and public servants in Massachusetts have signed onto the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition. But the path forward is long and our work toward ending the stigma around menstruation is far from over. There is a dearth of information about what the state of access to menstrual products is in schools, prisons, and shelters. We’re working with stakeholders across the state to gather stories from all those who would be impacted by this bill to develop an implementation strategy that’s feasible, economical, and truly a service to those it’s meant to support.

Language matters because it is a part of how systems of oppression operate. That’s why the bill refers to “menstruating individuals” – because we know that not all women menstruate, and not all menstruators identify as a woman. We also avoid using the word hygiene because periods are not something dirty that needs to be cleaned away.

Meet the Author

Sasha Goodfriend

Massachusetts chapter National Organization of Women

Mass NOW is calling on menstruators and non-menstruators alike to talk about periods. The power in the stigma and shame around menstruation – and around female and femme identifying bodies more broadly – lies in our refusal to even talk about it. We have the power to break this cycle through conversations around the dinner table, in health education classes and  with Mass NOW; in consciousness raising style in living rooms across the Commonwealth. We shouldn’t need a day to talk about periods, but once you start talking about it, you’ll find that the conversation doesn’t stop flowing.Sasha Goodfriend is the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization of Women.

Should ‘lifers’ get a chance for parole?

Bill would make those serving life sentences eligible for hearings after 25 years

 SARAH BETANCOURT Feb 28, 2019

SOME BEACON HILL LAWMAKERS are making another push for legislation that would allow the 1,050 Massachusetts inmates serving life prison sentences to be eligible for parole hearings.

Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston and Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop have filed legislation that would allow all those serving life sentences – most of whom are in prison for murder – to be eligible for a parole hearing after 25 years of incarceration.

Livingstone on Thursday participated in a panel discussion on the issue before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reform Caucus; joining him were Marc Mauer, who leads the Washington, DC-based Sentencing Project, and Donald Perry, a former inmate who served over 18 years in prison.

Mauer, one of the country’s leading experts on sentencing policy, said a record number of 206,000 people are serving life terms in prisons across the US. “Life without parole is not an alternative for the death penalty. It’s an alternative for life with parole,” he said.

The only other way an inmate serving a life sentence can get out of prison is to have his or her sentence commuted, but no governor has commuted a life sentence in Massachusetts since 1997, according to data from the Governor’s Council.

A 2016 Department of Correction annual report shows that $50,000 a year is spent on housing an inmate, with sick and elderly inmates costing up to three times as much. Mauer said older and sicker offenders in their 70s pose a diminished public safety risk and should be released and reintegrated into society to save on these costs.

A number of states are considering proposals to reduce their prison populations. In Missouri, bills have been filed that would grant a parole hearing after no more than 30 years in prison for lifers, and allow early parole for certain offenders over 65 in geriatric units. Both were proposed by Republican legislators.

“President Obama, in his last two years, issued 1,700 sentence commutations,” said Mauer. About a third of those who received commutations had been sentenced to life in prison, often as a result of the “three-strikes” laws mandating life imprisonment for some third-offense drug cases.

Perry received the maximum penalty for armed robbery in 1983, and was on parole for 14 years following nearly two decades behind bars. He now works on criminal justice reform and is a co-founder of Black Behavioral Health Network, which addresses a gap in health services for African-Americans who face incarceration.

Perry said some lifers were classified by the Department of Correction in the 1970s as no longer a threat to society, and could go out on weekends to teach at local universities. “That doesn’t exist now,” he said.Meet the Author

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, who attended the State House event, said afterwards that she is in the “information gathering phase” when it comes to the bill to establish parole for those convicted of first-degree murder. “None of us would ever want to be defined by the worst acts of our lives. And then you have to think about that victims’ families are suffering,” she said.

“Our goal is the protection of the public’s safety,” Ryan said, but added that it’s worth assessing “when or if a person is ready to come back out into society.”

How low can voter turnout go?

Commonwealth Magazine — Report on turnout in upcoming election for U.S. Senate as well as State Representative. “Voters in the city’s wealthiest neighborhood must choose a new state representative to replace Marty Walz who now heads Planned Parenthood Massachusetts. Except that it’s not much of a choice. The Democratic candidate Jay Livingstone is the only person on the ballot for the 8th Suffolk seat. An independent, Thomas Dooley III, has mounted a write-in sticker campaign. There is no Republican opponent.” Read the story.