HIV and AIDS among inmates in the Memphis’ Shelby County Jail is an “epidemic,” activist Novella Smith Arnold told a County Commission panel yesterday, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Her solution is to hand out condoms to inmates and require testing. “AIDS is still alive and well,” Arnold said. “It’s still coming out of the jail to the black community, and our black women are suffering from this virus, and they’re dying.” Arnold said condoms would protect those who engage in consensual sex, and their loved ones when they get out of jail. It’s an idea that has sparked debate around the country.
Of the inmates who volunteered to get tested since January, just over 2 percent tested positive. That compares with about three-fourths of 1 percent of the U.S. population. However, only about a third of those booked in 2008 were tested. A sheriff’s administrator said passing out condoms might send the wrong message. Inmates are closely watched, and the official couldn’t he can’t recall any incident of sexual assault in recent years. If jail officials were to distribute condoms, they would be the first in Tennessee to do so. Other city jails distribute condoms, including those in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York.