Despite a state law that prohibits sex among prisoners, California lawmakers are considering a bill that proposes distributing condoms in prisons to reduce high STD and HIV infection rates among inmates. Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) proposed AB999, which would require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to supply condoms in 5 prisons by 2015 and in all 33 adult prisons by 2020.
The Assembly already has passed AB999; if the Senate also approved the bill, California would become the second state, after Vermont, to give condoms to all prisoners. Legislative researchers reported that Australia, Brazil, Canada, many European Union nations, Indonesia, and South Africa already have condom distribution programs.
California piloted condom distribution among 800 state prisoners in 2008, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to allow health and nonprofit organizations to give out condoms in prisons. Based on pilot outcomes, public health officials recommended expanding the program.
At present, the California correctional system allows spouses and domestic partners to bring up to 10 condoms for overnight family visits, but does not allow condoms outside visiting areas. Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. jails provide condoms for inmates.
Bill opponents feared condom distribution would encourage forced and consensual sex among prisoners and worried that prisoners could use condoms for smuggling contraband or drugs. Representatives of the San Francisco Department of Public Health's HIV Services reported they have not experienced any of these problems.
Assembly Member Dan Logue (R-Marysville) voiced concern over condom distribution among female inmates who could use the condoms during sex with prison guards or workers. Although Bonta acknowledged that could occur, AB999 allowed the corrections department to provide other safer-sex options for women. The bill also required donated condom dispensing machines to prevent taxpayers from paying for prisoners' condoms.
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