The Los Angeles County Sheriff is considering expanding a program that distributes condoms in a unit for gay men at Men’s Central Jail. Currently, an outreach worker from nonprofit Center for Health Justice stops by once a week to give one condom per inmate to the 300 men in that unit. Now they’re considering doubling the number of condoms being distributed. Sheriff Department officials say they spend about $2 million annually on HIV/AIDS medication and identify 65 new cases of HIV each month. “Sex in jails is against the law, but there is a public health issue that needs to be considered,” said spokesperson Steve Whitmore.This problem isn’t a new one. Back in 1987, the Reagan Administration ruled out providing condoms to Federal prison inmates. Back then, the medical director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons said it would be inconsistent for authorities to hand out condoms in an effort to curb the spread of AIDS since homosexual sex is against prison regulations.
In 2007, only a handful of cities in the U.S. gave inmates regular access to condoms. At that time, Glen Goord, New York state’s former corrections commissioner said condoms were used to transport drugs and might encourage prison rapists since it would help them to avoid DNA evidence. That same year the CDC released a report recommending lawmakers to consider a federal condom-distribution policy. But that hasn’t come, and HIV/AIDS transmission in prisons continue.
How is distributing condoms in jails any different from needle-exchange programs? It isn’t, really. When implemented by private groups, both programs have the power to reduce the transmission of AIDS. But since the activities associated with them are illegal, the government feels that it can’t support these programs without sending the wrong message. President Barack Obama had made a campaign promise to overturn the longstanding ban on federal funding for needle-exchange programs. Well, that hasn’t happened — he’s said to be building support for this — so we’ll have to wait and see if a change can be made on the condoms in prisons front, as well. In the meantime, I don’t recommend sleeping with someone who has been incarcerated until after they’ve have an STD test.