December 19, 2008
"The spread of HIV behind bars is exacerbated by the lack of condoms in US prisons and jails," Lovisa Stannow, the head of the California-based nonprofit Just Detention International (JDI), said recently.
Despite widespread prohibitions against sex behind bars, a number of jails in Vermont and some major cities - New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and the District of Columbia - distribute condoms to inmates. And in California, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has twice vetoed legislation to distribute condoms in state prisons, he did allow a one-year pilot distribution program at California State Prison-Solano. That program launched in September.
According to Stannow, inmates in coercive or protective pairings could protect themselves against the transmission of STDs like HIV if condoms were available. Protective pairings, whereby a vulnerable inmate receives protection from a stronger inmate in exchange for sex, are common in prison, she said.
"Public health agencies including the National Commission on Correctional Health have consistently endorsed condom distribution as a harm-reduction strategy," Stannow noted.
"Sex in prison is forbidden," said Felecia Ponce, spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. "Condoms are not distributed at any of the [FBP] facilities across the country."