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The landmark California Assembly Bill 1677, which would have allowed public health organizations and officials the opportunity to distribute condoms to state correctional facilities in order to control the staggering rate of HIV infections among inmates, cleared its final legislative hurdles only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday.
"The HIV infection rate in our state correctional facilities is many times higher than in the general population. With the average duration of incarceration being just two years, HIV infections in our state correctional facilities quickly spread to communities on the outside with high incarceration rates. Sadly, the governor's veto of condoms in prison will result in thousands of people both inside and outside of prison being infected with HIV at a staggeringly high cost in both human lives and taxpayer dollars," noted Assemblyman Paul Koretz of West Hollywood, author of the bill.
Other organizations have joined Koretz in criticizing Schwarzenegger, including bill proponents the Southern California HIV/AIDS Advocacy Coalition, AIDS Project Los Angeles, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
"Researchers are beginning to link the rise in HIV among young black women to the disproportionate number of black men--their partners--who serve prison sentences. As Latinos have now become the predominant ethnic group in California's prisons, a similar effect may be seen among that community and others unless our political leaders do the right thing and make condoms available to men in prison throughout the state," insists Mary Sylla, the policy director of Health Justice, an agency that has distributed 14,000 condoms to the Los Angeles County Jail.
According to Koretz's office, the HIV infection rate of the California prison population is about eight times higher than in the general population of Los Angeles. Studies also show that between 40% and 60% of inmates engage in some form of sexual activity while incarcerated, yet condoms remain designated as contraband by the California Department of Corrections. Individuals who then seroconvert while in prison often end up in state-run medical assistance programs such as MediCal or the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
Annual Corrections Department spending on HIV care has exceeded $20 million, mostly due to the cost of antiretroviral drugs. As a result, further spending on treatment for those infected in prison and any subsequent infections could end up costing California hundreds of millions of dollars.
Condoms are available in prisons in Washington, D.C., Vermont, and Philadelphia along with Canada, South Africa, most European Union countries, and parts of Latin America. City jail systems allowing condoms include New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. (The Advocate)