Sept. 1, 2006 – California legislators passed a bill recently allowing the distribution of condoms in state prisons by nonprofit and public healthcare agencies.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he has not yet decided whether to sign the bill.
"Everyone knows that sex happens in prisonâ€¦ not distributing condoms results in unnecessary inmate infections and fuels HIV transmission outside of prison, particularly in our minority communities," assemblyman and bill sponsor Paul Koretz said in a statement.
In its most current survey of HIV and AIDS in prison, the Department of Justice found that 1,196 inmates in California state prisons were infected with HIV in 2003, about seven tenths of a percent of the total population.
AIDS advocates say that given the low expectation of privacy in prisons and the stigma associated with the virus, many inmates avoid testing, possibly making the actual rate of infection in prisons higher.
Fresno Senator Charles Poochigian told the Associated Press the bill "sends entirely the wrong message" and said prisons should work to reduce gang activity, which he says encourages sexual activity in prison. Opponents also said condoms can be used as weapons or smuggling devices.
But that argument is a "smokescreen," prison AIDS activist Mel Stevens told The NewStandard in a previous article. "What really is the bottom line is [corrections officials] don't want to know that men are having sex with men."
Various studies have illustrated that most sex among prisoners is consensual.
Advocates are not only calling for the distribution of condoms, but also prevention education and better healthcare to decrease HIV transmission rates in prisons and the communities in which prisoners are released.