Washington State Legislature To Consider Bill Aimed at Reducing HIV Transmission in Prisons
Some Washington state legislators are advocating for a bill (HB 1003) that would create a five-year plan to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, among prison inmates in the state, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Jeannie Darneille (D), is advocating that the state distribute condoms to inmates, although it is not specifically mentioned in the bill. The Governor's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in June 2006 recommended to Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) that the state's prison system distribute condoms to inmates as part of a plan to reduce the spread of STIs among inmates. Gregoire has not stated her position on the issue, according to an unnamed spokesperson. Marc Stern, health services director for the state Department of Corrections, said that providing inmates with condoms could be interpreted as "promoting illegal behavior" because it is illegal for inmates to have sex while incarcerated, the Post-Intelligencer reports. "We're trying to send the message that sex in prison is not OK," Stern said, adding, "We're afraid that issuing condoms sends a mixed message." In addition, Stern said it is unknown how many inmates become HIV-positive while in prison. According to the Post-Intelligencer, the state does not require inmates to receive an HIV test before entering the prison system. Inmates in the U.S. are almost five times more likely to be HIV-positive than the general population, according to CDC. According to Stern, the number of HIV transmissions that occur in prison likely is "very small" based on a CDC study released last year that was conducted among male prison inmates in Georgia. He added, "There might be one case of HIV transmitted in prisons in the state of Washington in a four- to five-year period." Jeff Schouten, chair of the Governor's Advisory Council, said the council thought there was a "significant" number of new cases based on the CDC study. In addition, Schouten said there is a demand among inmates for condoms, adding that the CDC study found 30% of inmates who had consensual sex used condoms or an improvised barrier protection method. Another concern is that inmates who contract HIV while in prison could spread it to others when they leave prison, Darneille said. "Ninety percent of people in prison come out, and if they come out in the community and engage in behaviors that put other people at risk, then we have created a pathway for HIV and other transmitted disease if we don't intervene," she said. Stern said that the corrections department is working to improve its STI testing and education programs but added that the current system is effective, the Post-Intelligencer reports (Santos, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.