Prisons have a rate of HIV infection nearly five times greater than the rate nationwide, yet they are among the few places where condoms are almost impossible to get, reports the Chicago Tribune. That has spurred a campaign by lawmakers and public health advocates who are concerned that prisons may be a prime breeding ground for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Last week, an Illinois House committee voted 6-5 against a bill that would authorize distribution of condoms to state inmates. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago, which argued for the measure, said hopes to find a compromise with the Illinois Department of Corrections, one of the bill’s main opponents.
Sexual contact is banned in most prison systems, and officials believe allowing condoms could undermine the rules and even lead to rape of inmates. Supporters of condom laws say the reality is that homosexual behavior in prison is common, and inmates with no means of protection could contract diseases and infect others both in prison and afterward. Most public health experts consider condoms an essential part of HIV prevention efforts. Illinois prisons have 511 inmates known to have HIV or AIDS among a population of 45,000. A federal study last year in Georgia found that at least 88 inmates had contracted HIV in state custody. Two-thirds of the infected men reported homosexual contact with other inmates or prison staffers. Only Vermont and several big cities allow condoms for at-risk inmates.