Philadelphia, PA - Philadelphia Prison Commissioner Leon King will approve a revised condom availability policy after months of negotiation with ACT UP Philadelphia. Commissioner King will update the once-pioneering "Policy E.4.3.1," which was created in the late 1980s to help prevent HIV transmission in county jails.
The policy has been widely seen as a national model, although activists have privately criticized it for being too weak and complained that it has never been enforced. A survey among inmates conducted by ACT UP Philadelphia suggested that it is difficult to access condoms and that they have been frequently penalized for possessing them.
"We're pleased that Commissioner King is following through on the Philadelphia Prison's longstanding, but so far largely unfulfilled promise to make condoms available to inmates. This is an essential step toward reducing the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS in our city, especially among African-Americans," said ACT UP member Tymm Walker.
A study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC last year concluded that HIV transmission does occur behind bars and recommended that condom availability be considered as an effective public intervention. Waheedah Shabazz El of the Philadelphia County Coalition on Prison Healthcare and ACT UP commented, "Good prison health is good community health. Providing condoms to people who are incarcerated is not a moral, social or a political issue, it is a health issue."
In order to stop prison authorities from penalizing inmates for possessing condoms, they will now be for sale in commissaries. "This will send a clear message that condoms are not contraband to Correctional Officers, a problem that lead to the lack of condom availability before the update in policy," stated ACT UP member Jose de Marco. Free condoms will also be available during sick call, on the medication cart, and in social workers' offices. Both male and female condoms will be available. The Health Department's AIDS Activities Coordinating Office will provide the condoms, along with voluntary HIV testing and counseling.
Leah Hilsey of ACT UP said, "Providing condoms and HIV prevention education to inmates is important because they may not receive them when they are in their communities. Teaching people while incarcerated skills that can help save their lives is good public policy."
"ACT UP's collaboration with the Philadelphia Prison System is part of our commitment to promoting policies that ensure equitable access to prevention and treatment for all people living and at risk for HIV/AIDS," said ACT UP member Kaytee Riek. Since 1987, ACT UP Philadelphia ha been working to reduce barriers to treatment and increase proven HIV prevention efforts in Philadelphia, the US, and internationally. "As a par of this commitment, we intent to hold the city accountable for all promises relating to condom availability, including the high schools."
More than half of all new HIV infections and AIDS cases are among African-Americans, despite being only 12% of the total US population. Furthermore, a recent study by CDC reported that nearly half of African-American men who have sex with men may be HIV positive. Each year, 25% of people with HIV will spend some time behind bars. "Providing life saving prevention tools like condoms can also save thousands of dollars in treatment costs later on and avoid further overburdening systems of care," commented Jose de Marco of ACT UP.