SIECUS Logo

Support SIECUS!

Make sexuality education available to all.

Stay informed!

Sign up for SIECUS newsletters, updates, action alerts, and more!

Quick Links

PrEP
San Francisco Jail Installs Condom Dispensers

San Bruno County jail recently expanded its condom availability program, The Novel Condom Access Program for San Francisco Jail Prisoners, to make condoms more accessible to inmates.[1] This September, the program will be extended through the installation of 16 condom dispensers for the 750 prisoners in the San Bruno facility in San Francisco in an attempt to promote safe sex practices among inmates.[2] The new installation of condom dispensers is an expansion of the policy created in 1989 that allowed inmates to obtain condoms after participating in a one-on-one counseling session.  
 
Technically, prison inmates are prohibited from engaging in sexual activity based on California Penal Code § 286(e).[3] However, according to Kate Monico Klein, director of the program for San Francisco’s Public Health Department, sex is “already taking place. If providing condoms saves one or two lives, it’s worth it.”[4] Klein’s assertion that inmates are at risk is justified, with prison HIV/AIDS rates four times higher than the rate among the unincarcerated U.S. population and quick turnover in the prison system potentially leading to greater risk for those outside of the system becoming infected.
 
To better combat these problems, an increased number of condom dispensing machines were stocked with Lifestyles brand condoms and placed in each of the 16 pods of the San Bruno facility. This increase in dispensers marks an expansion of a 2008 pilot program that installed one condom dispenser in the jail’s gymnasium which provided inmates weekly access to contraceptives. [5] Because of this expansion, there are now two methods by which incarcerated persons can obtain condoms: individual health education counseling sessions and the 16 newly installed dispensers.
 
San Bruno’s Sherriff, Michael Hennessey, who has overseen the program since its inception in July of 1989, said that the previous policy for distributing condoms was not sufficient in providing a substantive message and means of protection for inmates. “We started by printing up a little brochure, and when people would get out of jail, and pick up their property, we would give them the brochure, and we would scotch tape a condom to the brochure," said Hennessey. “After we’d done that for awhile, we thought probably the better thing would be to actually provide the condoms in the jail as a form of AIDS education.” Adds Hennessey in support of further expanding the program, “I see it also as people who run jails and prisons have an opportunity to educate people when they’re in their custody.”[6] Hennessey’s unwavering support of the program continues with the installation of the 16 free-of-charge condom machines. “It may be controversial,” Hennessey stated on September 8th, “but I think the larger health education message is important.”[7] 
 
Sacramento County Sherriff John McGinness heavily criticized the new program, basing his stance on California jail regulations that count sex within jail as illegal and chargeable by felony. “It’s more than waving a white flag of surrender of our caretaker [responsibilities],” said McGinness. “I think it actually condones unlawful activity.”[8]
 
Correctional administrators and jail staff echoed McGinness’ concerns, arguing that providing condoms to incarcerated individuals not only might send a hypocritical message about engaging in sexual activity, but could potentially be a security risk. In a study of attitudes towards condom distribution prior to the installation of condom dispensers in the San Bruno facility, staff members worried that condoms might be a vessel for inmates to “conduct illegal activities including secreting contraband and assaulting staff with bodily fluids or excrement.”[9]
 
Even with the strong opposition, Sherriff Hennessey and collaborators on The Novel Condom Access Program, which include the Forensic AIDS Project, Public Health Department, Center for Health Justice, San Francisco Sherriff Department, and the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, seem undeterred. Their conviction was reinforced by findings from a study based on the evaluation of the pilot program which showed success in increasing access to condoms and knowledge of condom use in the jail.
 
Qualitative interviews with the jail staff and the inmates conducted prior to and after the installation of the condom dispenser found that the percentage of incarcerated persons who knew that condoms were available through the dispensers increased from 12% to 58% and that the number of prisoners who received a condom in the jail increased from 4% to 22%. Eight out of nine inmates interviewed in the study stated that they knew about the one-on-one counseling sessions where they could obtain condoms prior to the installation of the dispenser, but were much more likely to use the condom dispenser than to go to the counselor.[10] The study also evaluated security issues in the jail, addressing concerns that inmates would use the condoms to hide contraband or use as weapons. In interviews conducted four months after the pilot dispenser was installed, staff reported that “there were no disciplinary issues related to condoms or the condom dispensing machine.”[11]
 
Staff and prisoner interviews also revealed that the instance of sex between inmates did not increase, as many of the staff feared it would, and in post-intervention interviews, all of the surveyed staff members stated that they “approved of increased prisoner access to condoms.”[12] Knowledge and understanding of sexual health and safety also increased with the installation of the condoms dispenser, which was one of the primary reasons the program was created. As one San Bruno inmate stated, “I think you should have [condoms] because that way it’s provided to be safe if [sex] was to happen. And I think everybody should have that option to be safe.”[13]
 
 

 


[1] Mary Sylla, Nina Harawa, and Olga Grinstead Reznick, “The First Condom Machine in a US Jail: The Challenge of Harm Reduction in a Law and Order Environment,” American Journal of Public Health, (April 2010), e1–e4.
[2] Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, “San Francisco Jail Installs Condom Dispensers,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8 September 2010, accessed 21 September 2010, <http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-09-08/bay-area/23994479_1_condom-dispensers-condom-machines-steve-poizner>.
[3] Olga Grinstead Reznick, Kate Monico Klein and Mary Sylla, “A Novel Condom Distribution Program for County Jail Prisoners” Science to Community, Prevention #17 (September 2008).
[4] Ibid.
[5] Mary Sylla, Nina Harawa, and Olga Grinstead Reznick, “The First Condom Machine in a US Jail: The Challenge of Harm Reduction in a Law and Order Environment.”
[6] Kenny Goldberg, “Condoms in Jails: A Controversial Intervention,” KPBS Public Broadcasting, 19 April 2010, accessed 21 September 2010, <http://www.kpbs.org/news/2010/apr/19/condoms-jails-controversial-intervention/>.
[7] David Knowles, “Need a Condom? Go Directly to Jail (in San Francisco),” AOL News Surge Desk, 8 September, 2010, accessed 14 September, 2010, <http://www.aolnews.com/surge-desk/article/need-a-condom-go-directly-to-jail-in-san-francisco/19625863>.
[8] Kim Minugh, “Sacramento Sherriff Won’t Follow SF on Condoms in Jail,” Sacramento Bee, 9 September 2010, accessed 13 September 2010, <http://blogs.sacbee.com/crime/archives/2010/09/sacramento-sher-54.html>.
[9] Mary Sylla, “Prisoner Access to Condoms in the United States — The Challenge of Introducing Harm Reduction into a Law and Order Environment,” Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), (May 2008), 1–9.
[10] Olga Grinstead Reznick, Kate Monico Klein and Mary Sylla, “A Novel Condom Distribution Program for County Jail Prisoners.”
[11] Ibid.
[12] Mary Sylla, Nina Harawa, and Olga Grinstead Reznick, “The First Condom Machine in a US Jail: The Challenge of Harm Reduction in a Law and Order Environment.”
[13] Olga Grinstead Reznick, Kate Monico Klein and Mary Sylla, “A Novel Condom Distribution Program for County Jail Prisoners.”
 

Email a Friend Print this Page Give us your feedback
National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education