| SACRAMENTO, Calif.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. May 13 Condoms could
eventually be distributed to California prison inmates under a
bill that moved forward in the state Senate on Tuesday, setting
the stage for potential pushback from Governor Jerry Brown, who
vetoed a similar measure last fall.
The bill, which has already passed the state Assembly, would
direct state officials to develop a five-year plan to hand out
condoms in the state prison system. The initiative would not
change current law that criminalizes sex acts between inmates
regardless of consent.
"We are not only advocating for the improved health of
prisoners," said Oakland Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who
introduced the bill. "But we are also protecting communities
across the state that could potentially be harmed by
communicable diseases when former prisoners relocate to
neighborhoods upon re-entry."
The measure passed the Senate Public Safety Committee with a
5-1 vote and will next be heard by the Senate Appropriations
Opponents of the proposal 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.
Bonta said the rate of infection with HIV, the virus that
causes AIDS, is as much as eight to 10 times higher in prisons
than among the public. He said the state spends nearly $24,000 a
year for each prisoner infected with HIV and enrolled in
MediCal. He also said a previous condom-distribution pilot
program cost the state $1.39 per prisoner.
"The long-term benefits to vulnerable communities, and to
the budget, are well worth the modest state investment in
providing condoms to prisoners," Bonta said.
When the bill passed the Assembly in January, AIDS activist
Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation and a
bill sponsor, said giving condoms to inmates could help reduce
transmission rates and 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
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Cynthia Osterman)