Los Angeles Jail Begins Condom Distribution Program for Gay Inmates
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has "quietly" launched a condom distribution program in the section of the city jail that houses gay inmates, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under the program, the not-for-profit group Correct HELP provides the prisoners with condoms and gives a weekly AIDS education lecture at the jail. Each condom contains a sticker with Correct HELP's hotline number for inmates' questions, and the group has also provided receptacles for used condoms. The condoms are only distributed in the section of the jail -- known as the "gay dorms" -- that houses prisoners who have identified themselves as gay. Some groups have asked the department to expand the program to include the rest of the prisoners, but officials have rejected that request. The condom distribution project, which began three weeks ago, was launched to help stop the spread of HIV and other STDs in the jail. Sheriff's officials say they are identifying 500 inmates per month who are HIV-positive, and the Sheriff's Department spends $180,000 a month on AIDS drugs to treat prisoners. In the first 10 months of this year, Los Angeles County health officials have identified 100 new HIV infections, 27 chlamydia infections, 16 new cases of gonorrhea and several cases of early syphilis among prisoners in the gay dorms.
AIDS and prison advocates said they support the program, adding that prisoners who become infected with an STD in jail have a greater risk of passing the disease on to a partner or another person after being released. But the program has received criticism from those who believe it illegally "facilitat[es] safe sex behind bars," the Times reports. Some critics add that the program could violate state law, which classifies sex in jails and prisons as a felony. Sgt. Patrick Gomez, who is running for sheriff in the March election, said that it is "inappropriate for the [sheriff's] department to offer inmates condoms," even if an outside group funds and conducts the distribution. But Chief Taylor Moorehead, who made the decision to allow the condom distribution, said the issue is one of public health, not morality. "I did it only for health reasons. It's a sign of the times ... and a reality-based response from me that says I acknowledge the fact that fatal disease is spread in this fashion," he said. Sheriff's officials say they are not allowing inmates to have sex and will "investigate any inmates caught in the act." Sheriff Lee Baca, who is running against Morehead for re-election, added that if "problems arise" in the gay dorms, he will end the program. Six other jails and prisons in the United States offer condoms to inmates, although several of the facilities require inmates to attend AIDS education sessions to receive them (Shuster, Los Angeles Times, 11/30).