The bill, which must still be passed by the state Senate, directs
California to develop a five-year plan to hand out condoms in the
state prison system, where existing law already criminalizes sex
acts between inmates, regardless of consent.
Opponents of the plan have predicted prisoners in the overcrowded
system could use condoms to store contraband rather than for safe
sex, while backers say it could help cut down on high rates of
sexually transmitted diseases among inmates.
"Sexually transmitted disease is a tragic reality of life in
prison," said Oakland Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who
introduced the bill.
Bonta said the rate of sexually transmitted diseases that can be
prevented by condom use was considerably higher in prisons than in
the general population. In particular, he said the rate of infection
with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is as much as 10 times higher
in prisons than among the public.
AIDS activist Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS healthcare
foundation and a bill sponsor, said giving condoms to inmates could
help reduce transmission rates and would help protect spouses and
partners of prisoners once they are released.
"People have a right to have protection who are in prisons and jail
and it's not being provided to them — regardless of whether it's
legal to have sex in prisons or jails," Weinstein said.
He pointed to a pilot program in Solano State Prison that he said
was successful in preventing the spread of disease.
The state's legislative analyst found that the cost of treating an
HIV-infected inmate is about $41,000 per year, and said the program
would pay for itself and save hundreds of thousands of dollars if it
prevented 10 cases per year.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation has offered to provide the condoms as
well as dispensers, Weinstein and Bonta said.
[to top of second column]
Brown, in an October veto message of last year's bill, said
responsibility for condom distribution in prisons belonged to the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, not the
"The department currently allows family visitors to bring condoms
for the purpose of the family overnight visitation program," Brown
wrote in his message. "While expansion of the program may be
warranted, the Department should evaluate and implement this
expansion carefully and within its existing authority."
California prisons have been in the spotlight nationwide over the
past year over such issues as overcrowding and the practice of
keeping some inmates in near-isolation for years on end.
To make the measure more palatable to the governor this time around,
backers asked the state to develop a plan to distribute condoms, but
did not require the plan to be implemented.
Brown has not indicated whether he will sign the revised measure.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric
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