SACRAMENTO, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- A recently passed law in California makes condoms available to inmates in the state's prison system. Assembly Bill 966 was signed into law this September by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Also known as the Prisoner Protections for Family and Community Health Act, the legislation requires California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop and institute a five-year plan to make the prophylactics available in all 34 of its adult prison facilities.
Two previous versions of the bill were vetoed, one by Brown, another by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This version, authored by California Assembly Member Rob Bonta, differs from previous drafts by allowing for incremental institution of the policy.
The law is only the second of its kind in the nation; Vermont passed legislation to distribute condoms to inmates back in 1987. Despite the World Health Organization recommending condoms be made available to all inmates of jails and prisons -- a recommendation several other countries have already instituted -- the United States has yet to adopt the policy widely.
Bonta calls the law a "no-brainer," noting condoms provide "a low-cost method universally acknowledged to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs."
Many roadblocks to the ubiquitous availability of condoms behind bars have to do with cultural discomfort around topics of sex, sodomy, rape, and homosexuality.
Many states still have laws on the books outlawing intercourse between inmates, and indeed section 286(e) of the California penal code prohibits "sodomy with any person of any age while confined in any state prison ... or in any local detention facility." State law also "prohibits all sex acts, illegal and consensual, between inmates."
But legality aside, the sex still happens and Bonta's legislation is concerned less with policing pleasure and more with preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted infections and diseases.
"It definitely is a balance. The Sheriff's Department has taken the position that public health outweighs the concerns about sex in jail," Capt. Joseph Dempsey told Al Jazeera, noting that prisoners caught having sex would still face criminal charges, though its unlikely a DA will prosecute the inmates if the intercourse was consensual.
"You cannot live with your head in the sand," inmate Dino Baglioni said. "Many that come in young and healthy leave ill, and so it makes perfectly good sense to try and provide as much protection as you can."
"If it's going to happen, you might as well make it be safe," says Ronald Osorio, special-projects director at the Center for Health Justice.
"That condoms work is not a mystery," says Los Angeles jail epidemiologist Garrett Cox, noting the widespread reverberations the sexual health of inmates can have on a community after their release. Aside from protecting the health of inmates and potentially preventing the spread of infections to the public, the Prisoner Protections for Family and Community Health Act may also help lower prison healthcare costs for taxpayers, as a single infection can cost the state hundreds and even thousands to treat.
"This bill will help protect prisoners from the potential health consequences of possible sexual violence behind bars. We thank the Governor for signing this important public health measure," he added.