Although it is not often spoken about, it is no secret that sex between men is alive and well in our nation’s prison systems, nor is it surprising given that prisons are sex-segregated. This fact creates an even more complex issue of both sexual health and prisoners’ rights. Since sex is against the rules in correctional facilities, officials do not make condoms available to inmates, arguing that such distribution would represent a contradiction to rules against sex. This leaves prisoners especially vulnerable to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS.
Currently, only Vermont and five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.) hand out condoms to inmates on a regular basis. Mississippi only hands them out to prisoners who receive conjugal visits from their spouses. This leaves out the vast majority of prisoners who reside in the rest of the nation’s prisons, including those under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, who are at much higher risk for STD infection than people in the general population.
Prison officials not only report that handing out condoms would represent a mixed message, but offer other justifications for this policy, including the possibility of inmates using condoms to conceal drugs. Bills in both Illinois and California proposing condom distribution in prisons have been vetoed in the past year.
Ron Snyder, an HIV-positive Californian who served 19 months in that state’s prison system for embezzlement, said sex was pervasive despite rules against it. In addition, he said some prisoners used rubber gloves as makeshift condoms, and that prison officials allowed some romantically involved men to share cells.
In light of such information, prison officials need to do more to lessen the spread of STD’s in the prison population. Not only does this policy negatively impact the sexual health of inmates, but it also represents an increased risk to the general population when these inmates are released.