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Commentary & Opinion
Condom Distribution Programs Needed in U.S. Prisons to Reduce HIV Transmission, Editorial Says

July 24, 2006

"Foreign governments and international health organizations have long recognized the need" to provide prison inmates with condoms and information about HIV/AIDS; however, in the U.S., the "vast majority of corrections systems either decline to distribute condoms or bar them outright, on the grounds that sex behind bars is against prison rules," a New York Times editorial says. According to the editorial, the U.S. prison system houses about 1.4 million inmates -- "in cramped, unsanitary conditions, with little medical care to speak of," making prisons "perfect incubators for deadly diseases," including HIV/AIDS -- and has an "HIV infection rate nearly five times that of the general, nonprison population." In addition, there is "[d]iscomfort" among prison officials "with the idea of men having sex with men," and some officials deny that it occurs, the editorial says. "The danger of this denial-based approach to public health was recently underscored" in a report published in the April 21 issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report examining the prison system in Georgia, which urges state prison systems that do not have condom distribution programs in place to explore the possibility of implementing them, according to the editorial. States "need to take [CDC's] advice seriously," the editorial says, concluding, "Diseases that fester in prison spill over into society as a whole when the infected inmates return to the streets" (New York Times, 7/24).

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