California Gov. Schwarzenegger Should Sign Bill Allowing Condom Distribution in Prisons To Prevent Spread of HIV, Editorial Says
Despite "laws forbidding" sex between prison inmates and prison officials' denial that it occurs, inmates do have "unprotected sex," making "prisons prime settings for the spread of deadly bloodborne viruses like hepatitis C and HIV," a New York Times editorial says. CDC last year "underscored this point" when it "urged states without condom-distribution programs to think about starting them as a way of preventing the spread of HIV behind bars," according to the editorial. It adds that by "protecting the inmates, the state would also protect the all-too-vulnerable wives and lovers to whom they inevitably return when their sentences are completed."
The California Legislature last year "tried to take" CDC's advice by "passing a landmark bill that would have allowed public health agencies to enter prisons and distribute condoms to inmates who wanted them," the Times says. Although the bill had the "overwhelming support of the voting public," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) vetoed it and used the "familiar know-nothing excuse that handing out condoms would justify illegal sexual activity," according to the editorial. The "experience of jurisdictions that allow condoms does not support this view," the Times says, adding that "public health officials now recognize that condom-distribution programs are integral to any meaningful AIDS prevention program." Such programs are operating in prisons in Canada, in much of the European Union and in jails in Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., according to the editorial.
The California Legislature again has "taken up the condom bill," which is sponsored by Assembly member Sandre Swanson (D), the editorial says, adding that the bill "deserves to pass the legislature, just as it did last year." However, this time, Schwarzenegger should "sign the bill," the Times says, concluding that it would "give California's public health community a powerful tool to fight the spread of a deadly disease" (New York Times, 7/18).