California Prison to Test Bizarre Condom Program for Prisoners

Tom Hymes
VACAVILLE, Calif. — A pilot program instituted by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will take place at Solano State Prison that allows prisoners to possess one condom each without incurring disciplinary action, as long as the condom remains sealed in its wrapper.

According to recent news reports, Solano prison officials are currently installing 10 condom machines that will be supplied with 1200 condoms a week. The idea behind the plan is to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but mixed signals are clearly being sent to an inmate population that continues to engage in consensual and forced sexual activity that is illegal under California law.

The pilot program comes on the heels of a failed legislative attempt last year to legalize the distribution to prisoners of what the bill referred to as "sexual barrier protection devices." AB 1334, introduced by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson (D-Oakland) passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, but was vetoed by the governor last October.

Even that bill, however, would have allowed inmates to possess condoms while simultaneously criminalizing sexual activity.

"Any person who participates in an act of sodomy with any person of any age while confined in any state prison, as defined in Section 4504, or in any local detention facility, as defined in Section 6031.4, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison, or in a county jail for not more than one year," the legislation read.

Whatever Schwarzenegger's reasons for vetoing the bill, he subsequently directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to test the viability of distributing condoms to prisoners in a 12-month pilot program limited to one state prison. The program will commence in September at Solano.

Similar test programs have been instituted at smaller jails in Los Angeles and San Francisco, with no apparent incidents of inmates using the condoms or their wrappers as weapons, as some prison officials fear. Similar in some respects to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" stance, these condom programs acknowledge and are attempting to address the reality of sex in prison while still outlawing the sex itself.

"Sexual activity in prisons is still illegal," Terry Thornton of the California Corrections Department said. "Inmates will be notified of that as well where the machines are located."