California Bill Would Allow Groups To Distribute Condoms to Prison Inmates
Not-for-profit or public health organizations would be allowed to distribute condoms, dental dams or "other sex-related protective devices" to California's 162,000 prison inmates under a bill (AB 1677) proposed by Assembly member Paul Koretz (D), the Sacramento Bee reports. The bill would require the state Department of Corrections to develop a plan for the disposal of used devices that "protects the anonymity of inmates and protects the health of correctional officers." The bill has "touched off a verbal firestorm" in the state Legislature in part because the bill would provide inmates with condoms and other devices for "sex acts they can't legally commit," according to the Bee. Koretz said that Vermont and Mississippi permit condom distribution in prisons, as do Canada and some countries in Western Europe and Latin America. Los Angeles and San Francisco counties have allowed county jail inmates to receive condoms for the past two years, and jail officials say the policy has had favorable results, the Bee reports. In addition, Los Angeles County allows a local not-for-profit group to provide condoms to gay inmates, who are housed in a separate unit, according to the Bee.
State Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R) said, "If you really want to stop an activity, you don't make it easier for people to do it." Benjamin Lopez of the Traditional Values Coalition said the bill is "obscene, disgusting and absurd," adding, "This is the same mentality we're telling teens: Don't have sex, but if you do, here's a condom." Lopez said, "It hasn't worked for teens. ... What makes Paul Koretz think its going to curb disease in prison?" Lance Corcoran, a spokesperson for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, warned that condoms could be filled with human waste and used to attack prison guards. "Certainly, sex occurs in prisons. However, it's something we investigate fervently and try to prevent the best we can," Corcoran said, adding, "Next we'll be providing syringes to inmates, I guess." The state prison system has not taken a position on the bill, but prison officials have concerns about condoms being used to transport illicit drugs and the potential health risks of used condoms, according to Department of Corrections spokesperson Terry Thornton.
Koretz said that inmates face increased health risks because many of them enter the prison system already infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Bee. The federal government estimates that about 30% of federal male prison inmates engage in sex acts with other male inmates. However, the state Department of Corrections does not track the number of inmates caught or punished for engaging in such acts. Koretz said, "I don't disagree that if they could find a way to enforce the (prison sex ban), that would be better," adding, "But in the meantime, let's not turn a blind eye to this." Philip Curtis of AIDS Project Los Angeles said, "We think [the bill] makes a lot of sense," adding, "It's good, practical public health. It's no big secret that there has been sex in prisons for as long as there have been prisoners." State Assembly member Mark Leno (D) said that by reducing the spread of STDs among prison inmates, the bill also might help to reduce the risk of STD transmission in larger communities (Sanders, Sacramento Bee, 2/26).