California Hopes To Approve Condom Use in Prisons

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© Corbis

Colorful Condoms --- Image by © Corbis

Sex may not be allowed in prisons, but the reality is that it still occurs, and because condoms are contraband, the sex is unprotected.

That’s contributing to a rising rate of sexually transmitted infections (STI)s, including diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HIV infection rates in prisions is over two times the rate in the general population. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco estimated that California’s inmate HIV rate may be 10 times higher than that of the California population.

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To reverse that trend, California legislators are pushing a bill that would provide condoms for prisoners in the state’s jails, most likely in the vending machines where prisoners can already receive their basic supplies. Last week the bill was approved by the Senate, and the bill is now awaiting a decision from Gov. Jerry Brown. If the bill passes, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will be required to supply condoms to five of the state’s prisons by the year 2015. Eventually, the law will expand to include all of the male and female prisons in the state.

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Some critics argue that the state should not provide prisoners with condoms that would encourage sex, which is a felony, among prisoners. They have also raised concerns that condoms could be used to smuggle drugs or other contraband, or turn into weapons if filled with fluids and thrown at guards. But a few other U.S. regions have implemented condom distribution already. Vermont is the only state to allow condoms for all of its prisoners; Mississippi prisons only allow married inmates to use condoms during conjugal visits. A few jails in cities like New York City and Washington, D.C. have made condoms available to the incarcerated since the early 1990s. So far, these programs haven’t reported serious problems. And a pilot program involving 800 prisoners in California also suggested that free condoms did not cause a surge in inmate sex or security issues.

Scientific American reports that in California, the condoms would be funded by external donations. If the bill is signed into law, state officials are hoping it will make a difference in STI rates; California has one of the largest prison populations in the nation.