Controversial Plan Would Give Condoms To Convicts

A controversial proposal to stop the spread of HIV is about to take center stage in Texas.

On Monday, state lawmakers will take a look at a Houston lawmaker's plan to offer condoms to all state prison inmates.

Would it help stop the spread of AIDS, or encourage illegal activity inside prison walls? For every 50 people incarcerated in a state prison, one of them is known to be infected with HIV. And in the last year-and-a-half, the state said of the people released from state custody, about 1,700, have tested HIV positive.

What happens when those people leave prison is what has state Rep.Garnet Coleman concerned.

"We know that there is sexual contact in prison, and we have to stop the transmission of the disease because it comes back out into the community," Rep. Coleman said.

So Rep. Coleman said to cut back on the transmission of HIV inside prison walls, nonprofit agencies should be allowed to distribute condoms to inmates. To encourage safe sex, and keep prisoners who will eventually be released, from being infected in the first place.

"There's got to be some reason for the spread of AIDS among women of color, and it's been traced back to prisons," Rep. Coleman said. "The fact that people go into prison without AIDS and come out of prison with AIDS."

Officially, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it knows of only one person who was infected with HIV while in state custody. But the state only tests inmates when they are released -- not when they enter the system.

But Georgia tests inmates when they enter prison -- the Centers for Disease Control found that in seven years, 88 prisoners contracted HIV while in custody.

But even if condoms were offered in prison - would inmates use them? Last fall, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill just like the one being considered in Texas. The California Peace Officers Association said condoms presented a security threat.

And the influential Center for Moral Clarity opposed the idea, arguing, "To distribute condoms in a prison assumes that homosexual sex will occur. It's virtually admitting that prison officials can't or won't enforce the law."

Sexual intercourse is illegal in Texas prisons. But with one in every 50 inmates known to have HIV - the state is asking - what happens when those people get out.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice along with Houston's AIDS Foundation do offer an inmate-education program called "Wall Talk," to teach inmates about the dangers of HIV and how to prevent infection. In Austin on Monday, lawmakers will hold a public hearing on whether giving condoms to inmates might help that process or send the wrong message.

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