Illinois House Committee Votes Against Bill Allowing Condoms in Prisons; Increasing HIV Cases in Prisons Fueling Condom-Distribution Measures
An Illinois House committee on Thursday voted 6-5 against a bill (HB 686) that would have allowed condom distribution among inmates in the state's prisons in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV, the Chicago Tribune reports. According to the Tribune, HIV prevalence in prisons is about five times higher than in the general population; however, because sex is not allowed in prison, it is "almost impossible" to obtain condoms. The large number of HIV cases in prisons is fueling a campaign among some lawmakers and public health advocates to distribute condoms in prisons to reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In January, a bill (HR 178) was introduced in Congress that would allow the distribution of condoms in federal prisons, the Tribune reports. Critics of condom-distribution proposals say that allowing condoms would undermine prison rules and, potentially, lead to inmates being raped. Supporters of the proposals say that although sex is not allowed in prisons, it is still common and that without condoms inmates could contract HIV and other STIs and transmit them to others in prison and after their release. Vermont and several large cities nationwide -- such as Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles -- allow condom distribution among inmates at risk of HIV transmission, the Tribune reports. A bill (AB 1677) that would have allowed condom distribution in California prisons passed in the state Legislature but in October 2006 was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). According to the Tribune, studies conducted in prisons and jails that allow condoms show that most guards and inmates support condom-distribution programs. A 2002 study published in the journal AIDS Education and Prevention found that 64% of correctional officers and 55% of inmates supported the district's condom distribution program. In addition, no "major security infractions involving condoms" have been reported and there is "no evidence that sexual activity" among inmates had increased, according to the study's authors. According to Steve Whitmore, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, a condom-distribution program in the county jail that began in 2001 has caused "no significant problems." A CDC study released in April 2006 that was conducted among male inmates in Georgia prisons found that at least 88 inmates became HIV-positive while incarcerated, the Tribune reports (Manier, Chicago Tribune, 3/18).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.