Brian Moran, who serves as the secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security for the Commonwealth of Virginia, announced the move via Twitter.
"Having been recently informed of a recent Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) visitation policy, I have ordered its immediate suspension until further review," Moran wrote. "I understand DOC's precautionary steps to detect the rising threat of contraband, overdoses and even deaths among our offender population. A number of concerns have been raised about the new procedure."
"Though the policy has not taken effect and is scheduled for October 6, I feel it appropriate to immediately suspend the newly developed policy until a more thorough review of its implementation and potential consequences are considered," the statement adds.
The controversial policy, which specifically prohibited women from wearing tampons or menstrual cups during visits, was aimed at preventing contraband from being smuggled into prisons within the Old Dominion State. Visitors would instead be given a sanitary napkin to use for the duration of their visit. As for those who failed to comply, their visitation for the day would be terminated, and they would have their visitation privileges reviewed.
— Kristin Smith (@kristin8news) September 24, 2018
According to Lisa Kinney, the director of communications with the VDOC, a total of nine inmates have died in Virginia since 2015 due to heroin and fentanyl overdoses, and in 2016 some 31 visitors were caught trying to smuggle narcotics into correctional facilities.
Margaret Breslau, co-founder for the Virginia Prison Justice Network, told Sputnik ahead of the suspension that the policy was meant to stigmatize and mortify visitors.
"We see this issue, as does the ACLU, and other members of the Virginia Prison Justice Network, as another way to cast women visitors as suspect, another way to criminalize family members. We also see this as another form of humiliation for visitors," she said, who are already subject to intense scrutiny as well as embarrassing and inconsistent "modesty rules."
"While I appreciate the importance of the safety of staff and prisoners, this just adds another layer of tension and stress for women visitors, especially teens who would, no doubt, find this embarrassing and humiliating," Breslau added, before questioning whether correctional personnel would be subject to the same measures.
Nicole Rosser, an organizer with End Mass Incarceration, called the rule "unsanitary," and told Sputnik, "It just derails people from visiting family."
Virginia news station WRIC reported earlier this year in May that several correctional officers and an inmate counselor had conspired with members of the Mad Stone Bloods gang to smuggle in drugs and cell phones among other forms of contraband.
Rosser also said the now-suspended policy might have been targeted at corrections officers. "They are the corrupt ones," she said, "they bring phones, weapons, and drugs." The policy was blocked so fast "because a lot of the head people in the [Virginia Department of Corrections] don't even know what's going on in the prisons because before they show up the wardens make sure everything is right and exact!"
The ACLU of Virginia released its own statement on Monday, calling the policy unacceptable.
"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," Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the organization, said in a statement. "Any policy that discourages visitors is, therefore, one that should be subject to the most exacting and careful review."
"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 suspension comes more than a year after two women in Tennessee sued Corrections Corp. of America, since renamed to CoreCivic, and officers at South Central Correctional Facility for allegedly forcing them to expose their genitals in an effort to prove they were actually menstruating, WHSV reported. Both women have since reached an agreement, however, details were not disclosed to the public.