Texas Prisons Run Low on Deodorant, Toothpaste

Former inmate Jorge Renaud remembers how the purchases he made from the prison commissary, little things like toothpaste and deodorant, made life in a cell, often with another prisoner, a little less uncomfortable.

For thousands of inmates in the Texas prison system today, though, those hygiene items are simply not available, due to a lapse in state contracts with outside providers. They are not considered necessities by the administration, but from time to time shortages lead to complaints by prisoners and their family members.

For the roughly 151,000 inmates in the Texas prison system, there are 1,800 units of deodorant and 28,000 units of toothpaste left, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice figures. Deodorant can also be purchased as a part of hygiene packs, which include shampoo and conditioner. There are about 10,600 of those left.

At Texas prisons, inmates are automatically entitled to soap, razors and toothbrushes with 3-inch safety handles, in addition to their clothing and three meals a day. If they want deodorant or toothpaste, they have to buy it at the commissary. In 2010, a stick of deodorant cost $1.85, and toothpaste cost between $1.20 and $2 per tube, according to a commissary price list.

"Offenders are still able to purchase hygiene products from the commissary," said Jason Clark, spokesman for TDCJ, while also acknowledging that supplies are low. He said these commissary items are not considered necessities, and are procured from outside vendors. Soap, which is considered a necessity, is produced by the prison system, in a factory at the Roach Unit in Childress.

"It's been cold, so I don't know it's that big an issue," Jennifer Erschabek, Austin director of the Texas Inmate Families Association, said of the deodorant and toothpaste shortage. "But I think it just tends to frustrate people, because they feel like it's something necessary to maintain their hygiene."

A state contract with Colgate-Palmolive Company expired at the end of August 2012. Since then, the Texas Procurement and Support Services Division at the state comptroller's office has been advertising for bids from contractors who want to provide deodorant, said comptroller's office spokesman R.J. DeSilva. The most recent bid opening date was last Thursday. Neither the comptroller's office nor TDCJ explained why the contract lapsed. In the meantime, TDCJ has been making "spot purchases," according to Clark, but it was not able to complete the procurement process before supplies started running low.

"There's not an easy workaround," Erschabek added. "It's just state red tape and then a breakdown in the process."

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