GLAA Testimony on Condoms in Prisons

STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
ON OVERSIGHT HEARINGS
FOR THE D.C. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

Committee on the Judiciary

SUBMITTED MARCH 10, 1997


Chairman Evans, Members of the Committee:

My name is Mindy Daniels. I am a former President and currently the Vice President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA). Thank you for giving us this opportunity to submit this statement for the record on your oversight hearings for the Department of Corrections.

GLAA takes no position on whether or not our correctional institutions should be privatized. Our concern is that the health and welfare of the inmates is preserved regardless of what entity is employed to house District of Columbia inmates.

We understand that federal programs do not currently have a condom availability component. Unless D.C. inmates can have access to condoms while in a federal facility, we will almost certainly oppose any move to the federal sector.

In 1991 GLAA formed the Condom Availability Coalition. In 1993, pursuant to the Coalition's studies and findings, a condom availability program was introduced into every inmate facility in the D.C. Department of Corrections, including Lorton.

While Department policy clearly stated that any inmate found to be engaged in a sexual act would be disciplined, in accordance with the normal rules and regulations, condoms (for men) and dental dams (for women) would be made freely available to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. What spurred placing a condom availability program into action were the following facts:

  1. The D.C. Department of Corrections was (and still is) suffering from an extremely high rate of HIV-infected inmates. Conservative figures in 193 showed that at least one third of all inmates were infected. Not-so-conservative sources considered the rate to be near the fifty percent range.
  2. All D.C. Department of Corrections Administrators agreed sex is going to take place in prison and, to a large extent, cannot be controlled, and is not the facility's first order of priority. Sex among inmates, according to the Administrators, usually did not present security problems. However, they were feeling the financial sting of the HIV infection.
  3. The average medical costs of treating one inmate with HIV/AIDS was reported to be in the range of about $250,000 per year.
In 1994 the D.C. Department of Corrections permitted a quality assurance survey to be conducted at its Lorton facilities after condoms had been made available in all the facilities for at least a few months. In every facility surveyed the Administrator was interviewed with regard to the successes and problems they were experiencing with condom availability. The medical staff was also interviewed, as well as a random sampling of at least 10 inmates in each facility. I was a member of the quality assurance team and conducted many of the interviews.

The quality assurance survey showed the following:

  1. Each D.C. Department of Corrections Administrator at each Lorton facility (Maximum, Central, Medium, Occoquan, and Youth Center) was unquestionably supportive of making condoms and dental dams freely accessible to inmates. Each Administrator saw condom availability as a life-saving and cost-saving program that, in their words, "just makes sense." They admitted that as a practical matter, it was impossible to control inmate sexual contact. Most importantly, they stated that condom availability did not present security problems. They agreed the cost of treating HIV-infected inmates was a financial drain. Every Administrator was in favor of any program that did not affect security concerns and could effectively reduce the spread of HIV in the prison population.
  2. Every Administrator was hopeful that condom availability would decrease the ratio of HIV-infected inmates, or, at the very least, prevent the spread of HIV infection within the inmate population and reduce costs.
  3. Many of the Administrators noticed that free access to condoms and dental dams alleviated the need for inmates to barter for condoms in the inmate black market, which was a good thing. In fact, one Administrator stated he was having a problem keeping the institution stocked because inmates were hoarding condoms, believing they may only be available for a short period of time.
  4. Medical personnel were excited about the program and developing ways to educate inmates and encourage the use of condoms and dental dams, if an inmate were not going to engage in abstinence. Medical personnel were also hopeful that the education inmates received while incarcerated would help them to practice safe sex when they returned to society, in order to protect others and themselves. Many inmates practice unsafe sex while incarcerated and then return home to their wives and girlfriends, only to infect them.
  5. Female inmates also engage in sexual contact. Dental dams are a necessary component of any non-discriminatory condom availability program.
  6. Every institution employing condom availability educated its inmates that abstinence was the best way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and the potential of being disciplined if caught having sex. The use of condoms and dental dams were encouraged only in the absence of abstinence.
  7. Inmates reported that most of the inmates who engage in same-sex sexual contacts while incarcerated do not consider themselves to be gay or bisexual and would not identify themselves as such. Nevertheless, they admitted to engaging in sexual practices in prison with members the same sex, or "know many people who do." Almost all of the inmates were hungry for educational materials on safe sex "at least for when they got out."
  8. Accessible and anonymous availability (i.e., condoms in common areas) takes the pressure off the gay-identified individuals in the system and encourages safe sex. Gay-identified individuals complained that if the access is not anonymous (i.e., you have to ask a medical person for one) the inmates force the individual "everyone knows is gay" to get condoms for everyone else. It was reported that, as a practical matter, an individual will be more likely not to procure and use a condom, if doing so is not anonymous.
Making condoms available to inmates can only be characterized as a wise, financially sane, and humane act. Whether someone engages in sex — voluntarily or not — condom availability makes the act safer. The act will take place with or without a condom. At the same time, the system should not have to absorb the possible long-term financial consequences of sex in prison and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Because lives are at stake, we must insist that no matter what agency or system the District chooses to employ to house its inmate population, that the District ensures that the facility will include a condom availability program that permits inmates to have free and anonymous access to condoms, dental dams, and educational materials.

GLAA will remain vigilant in this area, because this is a life and death issue. We insist that the District do everything in its power to ensure the safety of all its citizens and their families and loved ones; that the District do everything in its power to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in its jails, which ultimately spreads to the general population; and that the District ensure the City is not financially compromised because of prudish concerns. We respectfully ask each member of this Committee to commit to remembering that this is a life and death issue and to insist that all potential agencies or contractors be required to maintain a condom availability program for D.C. inmates. Otherwise, it will simply cost the District too much: in lives and money.

We urge you to get more information on the numbers of inmates with HIV/AIDS, and to compare the financial costs of providing condoms in comparison to the cost of treating inmates with HIV/AIDS. The facts will compel you to make condom availability a priority.

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