California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) recently vetoed a bill (AB 1677) that would have allowed public health organizations to distribute “condoms, dental dams or ‘other sex-related protective devices' to California's 162,000 prison inmates.” The bill, which was introduced by Assembly member Paul Koretz (D) in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among incarcerated inmates, was supported by the Southern California HIV/AIDS Coalition, AIDS Project Los Angeles, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The bill passed the Senate in a vote of 22–15. Schwarzenegger attempted to justify his opposition to the bill by stating that “[c]ondoms have long been used as a way to smuggle drugs and contraband into prisons.”1
There are severe costs, however, of not providing condoms in prisons. Although the total cost of HIV in California correctional facilities is not tracked, it is estimated that “$18 million in costs are attributable to HIV with $14 million of that spent on antiretroviral medications.”2
Despite the fact that many inmates face an increased risk of acquiring HIV, most correctional facilities in the U.S. have chosen not to distribute condoms. Many argue that providing condoms in prisons implicitly condones sexual activity which is currently banned in prisons. (Despite the ban, estimates by the federal government show that close to 30% of “federal male prison inmates engage in sex acts, consensual or not, with other male inmates.”3) Others fear that condoms would be used as weapons, strangulation devices, or as a way to hide contraband.
Several other industrialized countries have recognized that many inmates are HIV positive or have other STDs when they enter prison , and that HIV transmission can and will occur in prisons unless HIV prevention is taken seriously.4 In Canada, condoms have been available in federal prisons for more than a decade. As of 2002, only four prison systems in Europe did not allow condom distribution, making the United States one of the few industrialized nations to withhold condoms from inmates.5
On a national level, Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the JUSTICE Act of 2006 (H.R. 6083) on September 14 th . The bill, which is supported by SIECUS, provides pre and post-test counseling, comprehensive sexuality education, sexual violence education, and the distribution of “sexual barrier protection devices” in federal correctional facilities. The bill also allows community-based organizations to provide voluntary testing for HIV during prison intake and health exams as well as prior to prisoner release.6
- “California Gov. Schwarzenegger Vetoes Prison Condom Distribution Bill,” Kaiser Network, 02 October 2006.
- “AHF Urges Schwarzenegger to Sign Condoms in Prison Bill,” AIDS Healthcare Foundation, (24 August 2006), accessed 20 October 2006, <http://www.aidshealth.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=876&Itemid=193>
- “Jail condoms draw fire in U.S., Namibia,” PlanetOut Network, 9 January 2006, accessed 16 November 2006, <http://www.planetout.com/news/article-print.html?2006/01/09/2>.
- AIDS Healthcare Foundation .
- PlanetOut Network