Should Condoms Be Handed Out In Prison?

Who's ready for an animal balloon party? Courtesy of Thinkstock

Who's ready for an animal balloon party? Courtesy of Thinkstock

While "punishment," "crime," "justice" or "cruelty" may spring to mind every time you read about prisons, consensual sex might not. (I mean, before Orange is the New Black graced the Netflix-waves that is.)

But given the recent change in California legislature, you might consider a whole new mindset. 

A new California law requires all of its state prisons to carry condoms. While this may be a new notion for many, it's actually not the first attempt to provide safe sex options to inmates. Previously, jails (which are operated by the county, not the state) were permitted to supply condoms—but few (including San Francisco and Los Angeles) did. Then, former Governator Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger green lighted a state-funded experiment of sorts: distribute condoms to one California prison—Solano State Prison, to be exact—to determine the effectiveness. Vermont, being impressively ahead of the game, actually signed a similar law in the late '80s. 

As you can imagine, these laws have not escaped scrutiny; sex is, after all, prohibited between both inmates and guards. Despite the arguments against the measure—the theories range from "sex causes drama and potential danger" to concerns about just how consensual said sex actually is, the bottom line is, it's happening. Without a doubt. So what's the best solution?

Let's see.

Give Prisoners Condoms! 

Those in favor of providing condoms for inmates are motivated by one giant issue: sexually transmitted infections. As it stands, inmates are disproportionately at risk for acquiring HIV. It's estimated that one out of every seven US residents living with HIV will pass through a correctional facility each year. At last count, approximately 1.2 million Americans were infected with HIV. Imagine a seventh of that figure (about 171,429 people) spending time in prison each year. Isolated. Bored. Eager to make friends . . . 

We know that sex between inmates (and worse, guards with inmates) is illegal, but—again—it's happening all the time. As the likelihood of contracting HIV is higher behind bars, this is bad news for even the most law-abiding citizens. Prisoners eventually leave their cells and then run the risk of getting frisky with the general population. If we could prevent HIV contraction behind bars, this could significantly impact the country's rate of contraction over all. As it is, some prisoners craft protection out of Saran wrap. I think we can all agree that's not safe sex. 

No Condoms For Prisoners!

While the benefits are seemingly undeniable, many aren't ready to drink the condom-prisoner Kool-Aid just yet (as sexy as that concoction might seem). First and foremost, sexual activity between inmates is illegal for a reason. Opponents feel that providing condoms might encourage forbidden frisky-time. And as we all know, having sex can lead to Melrose Place-level drama. With a collection of people confined in one place, this can lead to "disharmony" amongst the prisoners which in turn leads to complications for guards, and increased danger for the inmates. Worse yet—opponents also fear that condom distribution could lead to more rapes between inmates. 

And it's not just the sex either—condoms themselves pose a risk. Guards fear that condoms will be used to sneak in more contraband, and engage in a vile practice called "gassing," which apparently entails filling up "bags" with feces and other unsavories to hurl at prison guards.

Why We're Still In Favor

While many of these concerns vary between logical and downright disgusting, they're not based on too much evidence. 

The thought of increasing rape rates in prison sounds awful, but there's no evidence that this occurs when condoms come into play. Actually, sexual activity in general did not increase when condoms were added to San Francisco's jails. The much-dreaded gassing, also, didn't happen. (Whew!) Reports say that prisoners did find creative ways to use the condoms however—in the form of hair ties, balloons, and pillows. As for increased smuggling efforts? No evidence here either. Although it is worth noting that a good prison sneak wouldn't be caught and thus can't be counted.

In truth, this debate reminds me of the sex-ed debate in schools. Teens are going to drop trou and so are inmates. Reducing access to condoms does not make people say, "well, let's just cuddle instead!" It's best to accept this as a fallacy, and try to ensure health instead.

I mean, hasn't MTV's 16 and Pregnant taught us anything? 


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