all things condoms

Protection in Prisons

Posted by Condomologist on March 8, 2009

While the focus of condom availability and distribution in schools, drug stores, and other public locales should remain a priority, it’s easy to forget that those locked up in prisons deserve equal attention. The national rate of HIV in federal and state prisons is more than 3 times the national average, and denying prisoners access to condoms on the basis that sex is illegal behind bars simply doesn’t make sense. In the same way that needle exchange programs do not promote drug use, there is no evidence to support the argument that condoms in jails will increase sexual activity. It will happen regardless, and the costs of treating the disease far outweighs the costs of providing free condoms or putting them on the commisary list. The WHO supports condoms in prisons, yet condoms can be found in only a handful of cities nationwide and only state prisons in Vermont and Mississippi (only for conjugal visits). Federal bills put forth have not made much headway, but I’m proud to live in Philadelphia — one of those few cities — where former prison commissioner Leon King, pushed along by the tireless work of ACT-UP Philadelphia and others, fully implemented a longstanding prison statute in 2006 to provide condom access to inmates. More cities and states need to take action, and with this in mind, it’s good news that in Illinois, a bill has been passed by the House Human Services Committee to allow prisoners to purchase condoms. The bill may never become law, but with some grassroots organizing, more vocal support, and more willingness of legislators to step up to the plate, these baby steps can one day amount to some very real progress. Sex may be illegal in prisons, but as long as it’s going on, we all foot the bill for HIV meds, both inside and outside those walls; and when inmates are released, we all become at risk for contracting the disease. On a more basic human rights level, inmates simply deserve condoms as a means to protecting themselves. It’s due time to come out of the ice age on this issue.


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