Recently, a controversy has broken out in California over whether inmates should be provided free condoms, to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Supporters of the program argue that prisons are becoming breeding grounds for disease, while opponents say that sex in prison shouldn\’t be encouraged. Only one state, Vermont, and five cities regularly hand out condoms to inmates.

This may surprise some people, but I\’m actually closer to siding with the pro-condom people than I am the program\’s opponents. One of my main objections to \”free condom\” programs in schools is that people who accept the freebies could just as easily have gone into a store and bought them. They have that option. (In college, you could go down to the clinic and get a pack of 50 free condoms – and they were industrial strength, about a half inch thick. You might as well be wearing a space suit. Mostly, we used the clinic for large amounts of free Robitussin, but that\’s another story.)

Yet in prison, I\’m not so sure that\’s the case. They can\’t just run down to Walgreens and pick up a box of rubbers. Maybe some prisoners can have a family member bake some condoms into a cake or something. Even if they were made available for sale within a prison, who is going to use what little money they have to buy them? You think a prisoner in for life is going to forego buying a pack of smokes for some condoms? We\’re not exactly talking about long-term thinkers here. While one inmate may not be getting out for the rest of his life, an inmate to which he gains entrance may be back out on the street in a year.

However, according to the AP story:

Prison officials contend that condoms can be used to conceal drugs, and law-and-order politicians scoff at what they depict as a step that would encourage both consensual and coercive sex.

\”Coercive sex.\” Is that what it\’s called? I can say with almost 100% certainty that without \”coercive sex,\” I wouldn\’t have two kids. Maybe it\’s more like \”nagging\” or \”begging\” sex.

Furthermore, whether or not the state \”encourages\” sex among inmates, it is happening. (I know this from the time I spent three years in the joint for plagiarizing passages of Judy Blume\’s \”Are You There, God? It\’s Me, Margaret\” in my Master\’s Thesis.) And it\’s not the state handing out condoms that is forcing these guys into having sex – it is more likely the thought that they will never see another live female birth canal.

I\’m not saying that I\’m 100% on board with this plan – naturally, I\’d normally be on the side of the anti-condom people. Certainly, there are questions as to whether a man who is willing to rape another man in prison is going to be responsible enough to use a condom. I just think there are some extenuating circumstances here that could be addressed. Even if a few more inmates are protected, we\’re all better off. Either taxpayers can pay for a box of condoms now, or treating an AIDS patient in prison later.