Bonta Backs Bill to Reduce HIV/AIDS in Prisons

Rob Bonta

Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) has announced that his bill to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other STDs in California prisons passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The Prisoner Protections for Family and Community Health Act (AB 999) now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. “Sexually transmitted disease is a tragic reality of life in prison. The HIV/AIDS infection rate in prison is 8 to 10 times higher than among the general population,” said Bonta. “Our state must address this unsettling and sometimes disturbing topic head-on and realize that the long-term benefits to vulnerable communities and to the budget are well-worth the modest state investment.” Though many legislators have taken steps to address this issue in the past, AB 999 takes a new approach to the problem by reassessing those prior bills and refining them with insight learned from a recent pilot project. Specifically, AB 1334 (Swanson, 2007) would have required the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to allow nonprofits and health agencies to enter prisons to provide sexual barrier protection devices, condoms, to prisoners. Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto message directed CDCR to conduct a pilot program at one state prison facility to determine the risks and viability of condom distribution. A one-year pilot project was subsequently conducted at Solano State Prison in 2008-2009. “My office carefully evaluated the successful findings of that pilot project contained in the September 2011 report,” Bonta said. “Evaluation of a Prisoner Condom Access Pilot Program Conducted in One California Prison Facility, and drafted AB 999 as a direct response to those findings. AB 999 would require CDCR to implement a five-year phase-in to distribute condoms at all state prisons in a manner consistent with the Solano Prison pilot project findings. “By taking this most basic step in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, we are not only advocating for the improved health of prisoners, but we are also protecting communities across the state that may be exposed to former prisoners with communicable diseases who relocate to neighborhoods upon reentry. “And if the moral principle of keeping innocent vulnerable populations safe from deadly disease doesn’t compel you,” Bonta said, “the financial considerations are also persuasive. According to the California Department of Health Services the average cost per patient with HIV in the Medi-Cal system is $23,964 per year. “Over the life of the patient, a single infection can cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. The pilot program we studied cost approximately $1.39 per prisoner to implement; and the report concluded that this modest cost of the program paid for itself when considered against the fact that the program averted 2.7 to 5.5 infections per year. “The Solano pilot project found that when condoms are distributed in prisons, they are used. The condoms don’t increase the incidence of consensual sex or rape, but they do create an inexpensive barrier to a deadly disease.  I am proud to take a leadership role on this issue and stand up for the vulnerable communities who are being affected by this devastating and preventable cycle.”
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