June 2, 2005
Late yesterday, the California Assembly voted 41-34 in favor of a measure (AB1677) that would permit health and nonprofit agencies to distribute condoms in state prisons.
The bill's sponsor, Assemblymember Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), said HIV is eight times more prevalent in prison than in the general population and HIV medications cost the state Department of Corrections $14 million a year. "Our prisons are HIV infection factories and we are paying tens of millions of dollars a year for not making condoms available," he said.
"This is not an untested policy," said Koretz. "It's been done successfully all over the world," including, he said, most countries in Europe, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and South Africa, the states of Vermont and Mississippi, and the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But Assemblymember Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia) called the measure "absolute insanity." "What you are doing is facilitating lawbreakers," he said.
Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) countered that inmates still engage in sex behind bars despite the prohibition against it, and infected inmates can transmit HIV to their wives and girlfriends once they are released. "Those of you who talk to us all the time about caring about life, let's worry about the lives of people who get infected because these inmates get out," she said.
The measure now advances to the Senate.