Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) call for a pilot program at one state prison to test the effects of distributing condoms to inmates has drawn a mixed reaction from interest groups, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The move comes after Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1334, which would have permitted the distribution of condoms throughout the state prison system. Supporters of the bill said it would help to curb the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
In his veto message, the governor cited existing state laws that bar inmates from engaging in sex acts with one another, but added that "condom distribution in prisons is not an unreasonable public policy, and it is consistent with the need to improve our prison health care system and overall public health."
Assembly member Sandré Swanson (D-Alameda), who carried AB 1334, voiced support for the pilot program, saying that it would "demonstrate that we can reduce the spread of these sexually transmitted diseases and that our prisons will no longer be considered a place where these diseases can incubate."
AIDS Project Los Angeles, a key supporter of the bill, said the group would continue to push for condom distribution to be permitted in all state prisons.
The California Correctional Supervisors Organization opposed AB 1334, citing concerns about the condoms being used to facilitate drug smuggling or the potential to use them in attacks. However, spokesperson Ford Canutt raised the possibility of the group supporting a pilot at a minimum security facility or inmate fire camp.
Lynne Fishel -- a spokesperson for the California Family Council, which opposed the measure -- said that the governor recognizes that sex between prisoners is illegal, "but he wants to put a pilot project in one prison? I don't understand the logic" (Furillo, Sacramento Bee, 10/21).
Schwarzenegger's veto message is available on his Web site. (.pdf)
Schwarzenegger's "political courage clearly failed him" when he vetoed AB 1334, a New York Times editorial says, adding that the pilot program "falls short of the mass distribution effort that the system clearly needs."
The editorial notes that condom-distribution programs operate in correctional facilities in Canada and much of the European Union, as well as in Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.
The editorial states that the "pilot program needs to get under way quickly and should be expanded as soon as possible," concluding, "That's the only way to improve California's prison health care system and overall public health" (New York Times, 10/19).