Prison Officials Should Revise Rules Outlawing Condoms To Help Prevent Spread of Diseases, Including HIV, Hepatitis C
Prison officials should revise rules that ban condoms or make them unavailable in 48 of 50 state prison systems to help prevent the spread of bloodborne diseases, including HIV and hepatitis C, among inmates, columnist Brent Staples writes in a New York Times opinion piece. U.S. prison officials "have blithely suggested" that condoms are unnecessary in prisons "because there is little sex to speak of in jail," Staples says. But 650,000 people are released from prisons each year in the United States, and they return to "a handful of neighborhoods," where HIV and hepatitis C prevalence rates are "many times higher" than in neighboring communities, Staples writes. However, the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 -- which requires the Justice Department to gather information on prison rape and develop a national strategy for eradicating the practice -- "will inevitably force prison officials to confront all the varieties of sexual contact that public health researchers have known about for a long time," including rape; sex in exchange for commodities, such as food, soap or access to telephone calls; and consensual same-sex encounters, Staples says. The law already "is pushing some states to create new strategies for dealing with sexual assault in prison," according to Staples. "[C]ommon sense tells us that sex among inmates will not disappear even if rape and coercion are taken out of the equation," but the current rules banning condoms in prisons "aid the spread of diseases that flourish in prison -- and then make the leap to the world outside," Staples concludes (Staples, New York Times, 11/27).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.