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Philadelphia city officials are currently reviewing a change in policy that would give prison inmates greater access to condoms, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday. Though condoms have been distributed in city prisons since 1988, the new policy would add condoms to the commissary list, thereby allowing inmates to openly purchase them and normalizing their presence to guards and other prison workers.
Local AIDS activists, including members of the Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP, have been lobbying the city to update their policy, claiming that prisoners who obtained condoms from the city's AIDS prevention office reported having them confiscated by guards. Studies have shown prisoners are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than individuals in the general population, and a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year found that 71% of Georgia inmates had sex in prison, either with each other or with prison employees.
"We're really, really happy that we have a prison system that doesn't have its head in the sand," the Inquirer reported ACT UP member Jose de Marco as saying. "This is a health issue." Marco went on to say that institutional bans on sexual activity do not curb instances of sex between inmates, and that those behind bars are often members of groups at high risk for having contracted HIV pre-incarceration.
Philadelphia's approach is already much more progressive than most state and municipal correctional facilities in America, as the potential for using condoms to smuggle illegal goods has led to their designation as "contraband." Currently only prisons in Vermont, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles provide condoms for inmates, with some Mississippi prisons allowing distribution to married inmates, according to the CDC.
Sheila Moore, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, espouses the view held by most American prison officials: "A condom would have no legitimate purpose in any of our facilities," she told the Inquirer. "They can also be used to conceal drugs."
New Jersey Corrections spokeswoman Deirdre Fedkenheuer shares the same sentiment: "Sexual contact is a prohibited act," she told the Inquirer. "Hence condoms don't even enter into the equation." (The Advocate)