Friday, November 23, 2007

IHT Examines Efforts Aimed at Providing Prison Inmates With Condoms to Reduce of HIV

IHT Examines Efforts Aimed at Providing Prison Inmates With Condoms to Reduce of HIV

The AP/International Herald Tribune on Monday examined nationwide efforts to provide prison inmates with condoms in an attempt to reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. According to the AP/Herald Tribune, efforts by HIV/AIDS and prisoners' rights advocates to distribute condoms in prisons have gone "almost nowhere" because some prison officials and politicians argue that they encourage sexual activity among inmates and can be used to hide drugs.

Vermont and five other cities in the U.S. allow inmates regular access to condoms, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. Vermont's Department of Corrections has provided condom access in prisons since 1992 even though prison regulations ban sexual activity. The program provides inmates one condom at a time if they request it from a health worker. "It's a courageous position that Vermont took then and continues to have now," the corrections department's health services director, Dolores Burroughs-Biron, said, adding that there have been no reports of security problems as a result of the program.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) this year to allow condom access in federal prisons has "made little headway," according to the AP/Herald Tribune. A similar measure introduced in Illinois failed in a House committee, and a proposal in California was vetoed in October by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who said the proposal contradicted prison rules that ban sexual activity. Despite the veto, Schwarzenegger has commissioned the state corrections department to examine the feasibility of a pilot condom distribution program in a state prison. "When more than 90% of incarcerated people return to our communities, taking a head-in-the-sand approach to the fact that our prisons have become a breeding ground for HIV/AIDS poses a serious public health risk," Lee said.

Condom programs are under way in jails in Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. According to Mary Sylla - policy director for the Center for Health Justice, which distributes condoms in a prison unit reserved for men who have sex with men in Los Angeles - there have been no security problems at the facility as a result of the program. "If there was a case of somebody doing something horrible with a condom, we would have heard about it - it would be all over the corrections community," she said, adding, "But it doesn't happen."

However, some corrections officials "insist there are dangers" to condom distribution, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. Glenn Goord, New York state's former corrections commissioner, said that condoms are used to transport drugs and might encourage prison rapists, who could use them to avoid DNA evidence. There are no "authoritative" U.S. data on HIV/AIDS rates in federal prisons, but CDC released a report last year recommending that lawmakers consider a federal condom-distribution policy, the AP/Herald Tribune reports (AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/19).

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