California assemblyman Paul Koretz last week introduced a bill that would permit nonprofit and public health care organizations to distribute condoms in state prisons to help reduce HIV and sexually transmitted disease transmissions. Condoms are currently permitted only in Los Angeles County and San Francisco County jails in the state. "The HIV infection rate in our state correctional facilities is many times higher than in the general population," said Koretz in a press statement announcing the introduction of the legislation. "Everyone knows that sex happens in prison, and the correctional system seems unable to prevent it. Ignoring that fact by not distributing condoms results in unnecessary inmate infections and fuels HIV transmission outside of prison, particularly in our minority communities."
California prisons house more than 160,000 individuals who are at high risk of contracting HIV, according to state officials. The rate of HIV infection in California's prison system in 1994 was estimated to be 2.5%--eight times higher than the rate in the general population of Los Angeles County in 2000.
"Public health agencies could find no more effective place to distribute condoms than in prisons. Not doing so is taking a huge toll in additional infections and in health care costs to state programs," says Koretz. The Correctional HIV Consortium estimates that the health care cost for an HIV-positive inmate is $80,396 per year. Former inmates who became infected in prison often end up on MediCal or in the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program. In the 2002-2003 fiscal year, the average annual treatment cost for an HIV-positive MediCal client was $22,964, according to Koretz's office. The average annual cost for a client in ADAP was $7,966 in the 2003-2004 fiscal year.