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Women Often Can’t Afford Tampons, Pads In Federal Prisons. That’s About To Change.

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While in prison, Topeka K. Sam developed blood clots so severe that when she got her period, she bled through her sanitary pads. Sam desperately needed something more absorbent, which wasn’t available in the commissary. She was told to put her blood-soaked sanitary napkin into a bag and bring it to a male staff member, who would decide whether she could get a thicker pad.

“It was horrifying,” said Sam, now director of dignity at #cut50, a group that works to reduce prison populations. “My anxiety levels would go up every time I had to go ask. Just all the shame comes with that.”

It took five months for Sam to be granted access to the pads she needed.

But heavy-duty pads weren’t the only menstrual hygiene products that were tough to get. In the real world, tampons and pads are expensive. In prison, they’re exorbitantly priced, especially for those earning $5 a month. In federal prison, two tampons cost $5.55. A pair of panty liners go for $1.35. Further, prisons limit the number of pads and tampons that inmates can buy. Some institutions offer these items for free, but they usually don’t supply enough.

A 2015 study by the Correctional Association of New York found that 54 percent of women in prison said they do not get enough sanitary pads.

Sam watched helplessly as other inmates also suffered. Some women walked around in stained jumpsuits. Others fashioned pads out of socks. Some used their weekly allotment of tissues and stuffed them in their underwear.

“Just because you’re incarcerated doesn’t mean your human dignity should be taken away,” said Sam, who also founded a Bronx, New York, nonprofit called Hope House, which provides housing and support to formerly incarcerated women.

Topeka K. Sam served three years in a federal prison on a drug conspiracy charge. Sam now works to empower incarcerated and f


Topeka K. Sam/Instagram

Topeka K. Sam served three years in a federal prison on a drug conspiracy charge. Sam now works to empower incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women.

As demoralizing as the experience was, Sam today said she feels heartened that no woman in federal prison will have to endure what she went through. On Tuesday night, the Senate passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, called the First Step Act. The bulk of the legislation focuses on such headline-making issues as shortened prison sentences, opioid addiction and recidivism rates. But it’s the slim, three-sentence section toward the end of the bill, titled “Healthcare Products,” that’s giving women’s rights activists cause to celebrate.

The act requires all federal prisons to provide quality pads and tampons free to inmates.

The bill passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support on Tuesday evening, 87-12. It got expected backing from such progressives as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), and won support from hard-line Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The House is likely to pass the measure soon and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature.

“This is a big win for criminal justice reform,” said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of Periods Gone Public and the women and democracy fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “It’s also a win for women and women’s health. Our needs are being taken seriously in this particular context.”

The First Step Act passed with broad bipartisan support on Tuesday evening, 87-12. It was backed by progressives, such as Eli


Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

The First Step Act passed with broad bipartisan support on Tuesday evening, 87-12. It was backed by progressives, such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), and hard-line Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The legislation is part of a growing interest in making menstrual hygiene products more accessible to women who are incarcerated. In 2017, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Warren and others, co-sponsored the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which would’ve required federal prisons to provide free tampons and pads to inmates. That bill hasn’t progressed, but it helped put the issue on the map.

Soon after, the Federal Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a memo requiring prisons to give out free tampons and pads. Critics questioned the quality of the products and how well the policy was actually being implemented. 

Some state prisons have since followed suit. In February, the Arizona Department of Corrections announced it would give out free tampons to inmates and would triple the amount of pads it would distribute. In April, Virginia passed a bill requiring jails to give out free tampons and pads. Two months later, New York lawmakers approved similar legislation.

While Weiss-Wolf said she feels heartened by the newest menstrual hygiene legislation, she noted that the female federal inmate population is dwarfed by the number of women incarcerated in state prisons. Women make up 7 percent of the federal prison population, a figure that’s remained steady. But the number of women incarcerated for violating state or local laws has skyrocketed since the 1970s. 

Weiss-Wolf said she hopes that women in federal prisons will now at least get access to more dignified treatment, and that local and state prisons will see how feasible that is. 

“The federal government doing this sets such a high bar and it sends such an important message,” said Weiss-Wolf of the First Step Act. “If they can do it, so can everybody else.”

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Ontario’s new automated speed enforcement explained

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(NC) To wage the war against speeding, many municipalities across Ontario have turned to automated speed enforcement. Most recently introduced in Toronto, speed cameras are a high-tech solution to reduce speeding and are considered one of the most effective ways to create safer roads and save lives.  

Recognizing police officers cannot catch all speeders, these cameras fill the gap, providing monitoring in specific locations around the clock. When a car’s speed is even one kilometre over the posted amount, it will take a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, using the captured photo as indisputable evidence. A ticket is then served to the vehicle’s owner, regardless of who was driving. 

With a focus on high-risk areas, Ontario’s automated speed enforcement cameras are located in two specific municipal areas: school and community safety zones. School zones are designated streets close to a school, featuring reduced speed limits as dictated by local bylaws. Community safety zones are high-risk corridors and intersections, subject to increased fines and penalties.  

While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act outlines the use of automated speed enforcement, municipalities can decide when and where to use cameras to curb speeding. The act does dictate financial penalties for speed violations captured with cameras, which vary depending on the number of kilometres caught over the speed limit.  

Speed enforcement is not new, but part of a broader, integrated road safety strategy that includes infrastructure improvements, awareness campaigns and new uses of technology. City officials hope for a halo effect, inspiring better driving behaviour across entire communities, not only in areas with cameras. A controversial topic, some critics take exception to speed cameras, labelling them as sneaky cash grabs for municipalities. Governments think the opposite. 

Safety advocate and auto insurance provider Onlia is hopeful that the cameras will provide drivers with a reminder to slow down, especially in high-risk areas like school and community safety zones.  

For those who obey the speed limit, automated speed enforcement shouldn’t change anything about your driving style, says Alex Kelly, Safety Ambassador at OnliaDrivers have fair warning as they approach areas with speed cameras, as mandatory signs provide reasonable notice of upcoming automated speed enforcement. Regardless of warnings, the best speed is the posted speed. 

You can start to understand your speeding style by downloading the insurance provider’s new safe driving app that coaches and rewards for you for safe driving habits.

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Online banking: How to protect yourself from fraud

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(NC) Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of consumers are regularly using mobile and online banking to paybill payments, transfer money and make purchases.

Although these tools can give you easy access to your personal finances on demand, there are also some risks involved. For instance, your banking information—such as your debit or credit card number, user name, or personal identification number (PIN)—could be stolen. If criminals have access to your online banking information, they can steal your money, which is why it’s so important to be  vigilant when you bank online.

Follow these tips to help protect your personal and banking information:

  • For your online bank accounts, use a strong password that can’t be easily guessed, and never share your user name or password with anyone.
  • Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no transactions you didn’t make or authorize.
  • When making online purchases, never authorize a website to save your credit card information, password or other personal information. Giving websites this permission will save you some time the next time you access the site, but it poses a real threat if a hacker manages to access your information.

Most financial institutions have policies to protect you from transactions that you didn’t make.

However, you are responsible for protecting your online and mobile banking information. If you give your details to anyone—including your spouse or partner, a family member or a friend—your financial institution may hold you responsible for any unauthorized transactions in your account, and even strip you of protection from unauthorized transactions in the future.

If you suspect your information may have been compromised, change your passwords immediately, and check your account and credit card statements for anomalies and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has created resources to help you protect your online banking information.

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Payday loans: Not the best way to borrow money

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(NC) Payday loans are a very expensive way to borrow money. Even if you’re struggling financially, think twice—and crunch the numbers—before getting this type of loan.

Depending on the rules in your province, payday lenders can charge fees of $15 to $25 per $100 that you borrow.

As an example, let’s say you borrow $300 for home repairs. The payday lender charges you $51 in fees, or $17 for every $100 borrowed. Your loan balance is therefore $351, which amounts to an interest rate of 442 per cent.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t repay your loan by the due date. These may include the following:

  • The payday lender may charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • Your financial institution may also charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • The total amount that you owe, including the fees, continues to increase.

There are better options out there

Payday loans should be your last resort to borrow money. Consider cheaper ways of borrowing money, such as:

  • Cashing in vacation days or asking for a pay advance from your employer.
  • Getting a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a personal loan from your financial institution.
  • Getting a loan from family or friends.

Before getting a payday loan and to avoid getting stuck in a debt trap, consider other, less expensive ways to borrow money.

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