The AP/International Herald Tribuneon Monday examined nationwide efforts to provide prison inmates withcondoms in an attempt to reduce the spread of HIV and other sexuallytransmitted infections. According to the AP/Herald Tribune,efforts by HIV/AIDS and prisoners' rights advocates to distributecondoms in prisons have gone "almost nowhere" because some prisonofficials and politicians argue that they encourage sexual activityamong inmates and can be used to hide drugs.
Vermont and five other cities in the U.S. allow inmates regular access to condoms, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. Vermont's Department of Correctionshas provided condom access in prisons since 1992 even though prisonregulations ban sexual activity. The program provides inmates onecondom at a time if they request it from a health worker. "It's acourageous position that Vermont took then and continues to have now,"the corrections department's health services director, DoloresBurroughs-Biron, said, adding that there have been no reports ofsecurity problems as a result of the program.
Legislationintroduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) this year to allow condomaccess in federal prisons has "made little headway," according to the AP/Herald Tribune. A similar measure introduced in Illinois failed in a House committee, and a proposal in California was vetoedin October by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who said the proposalcontradicted prison rules that ban sexual activity. Despite the veto,Schwarzenegger has commissioned the state corrections department toexamine the feasibility of a pilot condom distribution program in astate prison. "When more than 90% of incarcerated people return to ourcommunities, taking a head-in-the-sand approach to the fact that ourprisons have become a breeding ground for HIV/AIDS poses a seriouspublic health risk," Lee said.
Condom programs are under wayin jails in Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco andWashington, D.C. According to Mary Sylla -- policy director for the Center for Health Justice,which distributes condoms in a prison unit reserved for men who havesex with men in Los Angeles -- there have been no security problems atthe facility as a result of the program. "If there was a case ofsomebody doing something horrible with a condom, we would have heardabout it -- it would be all over the corrections community," she said,adding, "But it doesn't happen."
However, some corrections officials "insist there are dangers" to condom distribution, the AP/Herald Tribunereports. Glenn Goord, New York state's former corrections commissioner,said that condoms are used to transport drugs and might encourageprison rapists, who could use them to avoid DNA evidence. There are no"authoritative" U.S. data on HIV/AIDS rates in federal prisons, but CDC released a report last year recommending that lawmakers consider a federal condom-distribution policy, the AP/Herald Tribune reports (AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/19).
Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyHIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report ispublished for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser FamilyFoundation.