Health Experts Urge Texas To Distribute Condoms to Prison Inmates
Health experts have urged Texas to distribute condoms at no cost to prison inmates to combat the spread of HIV, the Houston Press reports (Malisow, Houston Press, 9/21). July statistics show that of 154,000 prisoners in the state, 2,627 are HIV-positive. The state prison system in August proposed a change to its HIV testing policy from saying new inmates "should be tested" upon entering prison to saying they "shall be tested" unless they refuse the test. About 80% of inmates have agreed to take an HIV test upon entering prison since the state began its testing program, and prison system statistics show more than 38,700 inmates received HIV tests in 2005, 372 of whom tested HIV-positive. Texas law mandates that results of HIV tests are confidential and that HIV-positive inmates are not separated from HIV-negative inmates (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/24). Heather Mitchell, a member of ACT UP Austin, said that distributing condoms to inmates would be an inexpensive method of reducing HIV transmission. According to ACT UP, distributing condoms in state prisons would cost the Texas Department of Criminal Justice less than $300,000 annually. In addition, it is likely that federal, state and local HIV prevention funding would cover most of the program's costs, according to ACT UP. "Prisoners are engaging in sex, and condoms are a proven HIV prevention tool, so it just makes sense that providing condoms is going to decrease the number of infections," Mitchell said, adding, "And from a public health standpoint, anything that decreases HIV infection is a good idea." According to TDCJ officials, condom distribution is not allowed in state prisons because it would violate the department's zero-tolerance policy on sexual activity. TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons said that the department is not ignoring the issue and is addressing it through programs that do not violate the zero-tolerance policy. According to the Press, the TDCJ and AIDS Foundation Houston have launched "Wall Talk" and "Safe Prisons," two peer-education programs that aim to combat the spread of HIV among inmates (Houston Press, 9/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.