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U.S. News

Tennessee: Condoms No Way to Fight HIV in Prison, Officials Say

July 1, 2005

With reported incidents of sexual misconduct at Tennessee prisons on the rise, some HIV prevention advocates are calling on the state to allow inmates access to condoms to curb the spread of STDs. Prison officials disagree, saying there is no evidence that HIV is spreading among prison populations through sexual contact.

Providing inmates with condoms would "send the wrong message" and encourage sexual activity, which is forbidden among prisoners, said Amanda Sluss, Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) spokesperson. "If we were to provide them, it would be condoning a violation of policy," Sluss said. However, some public health experts are concerned that inmates are becoming infected through risky behavior -- including sexual activity, drug use and tattooing -- while in prison. According to the experts, every prevented infection would save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

TDOC has never studied how much sexual contact occurs behind bars, but annual reports show that from 1998-2004, inmates were disciplined for more than 5,700 incidents of sexual misconduct. HIV testing in Tennessee prisons is mostly voluntary, so officials do not know how many prisoners entered the system infected or how many contracted HIV behind bars.

From 2000-2004, TDOC figures show the number of HIV-infected inmates fluctuated between 208-231. Dr. Melvin Butler, regional medical director for Correctional Medical Services, the company that provides health care for TDOC, said there is "no indication, from an epidemiological standpoint, that there's any spreading of the virus in the prison system."

Last year, TDOC spent $1.9 million, a third of statewide pharmacy outlays, on HIV/AIDS medications for the approximately 1 percent of infected inmates. Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University's department of preventive medicine said he thinks inmates should be given access to condoms and routinely tested, and infected inmates should be segregated from the general prison population.

Back to other news for July 1, 2005

Adapted from:
Tennessean (Nashville, Tenn.)
06.27.2005; Ian Demsky

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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