News Sexual Health

Porn Stars and Prisoners: California Considers Measures to Expand Condom Use

Martha Kempner

Two bills currently in the California legislature are designed to expand condom use for two very different populations.

Two bills recently considered in the California legislature would expand condom use for two very different populations. AB 332, which is currently stalled, would require actors in adult films shot anywhere in the state of California to wear condoms during filming. Meanwhile, AB 999, known as the Prisoner Protections for Family and Community Health Act, would institute condom distribution programs in five state prisons by 2015.

Condoms on Set

The porn bill is similar to Measure B, which passed in Los Angeles County last year. It requires all actors who film within the county to wear condoms, requires production companies to apply for health permits, and charges the County Department of Public Health with enforcing the law. The measure has brought the industry to a standstill, as production companies have shut down or attempted to move to neighboring communities. Ventura County recently passed an ordinance similar to Measure B, and the nearby city of Camarillo has passed a ten-month moratorium on all requests to shoot adult films.

AB 332 has the support of some public health advocates, including the AIDS Healthcare Foundation which pushed for the Los Angeles measure. The porn industry, however, opposes the bill, arguing it will force producers to leave the state, go underground, or use less professional actors who are not required to be regularly screened for sexually transmitted infections.

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Though the bill passed the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee with a vote of 5-0 last week, it failed to pass the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Condoms in Cells

The bill to expand condom distribution in prisons is still alive, however, having passed both the Assembly Public-Safety Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Nonetheless, it faces significant opposition from some legislators, who worry that providing condoms condones prison sex, even nonconsensual sex, and others who worry that condoms will be used to hide contraband.

Similar bills have been passed by the legislature twice before, but both were vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In vetoing the second attempt in 2007, Schwarzenegger explained that he was not opposed to the concept but felt he could not sign the bill because it conflicts with a state law that makes sex among inmates illegal. To test the idea, however, he authorized a one-year pilot program in one state prison.

A final report on that program was released in 2011. It found “no evidence that providing condoms posed an increased risk to safety and security or resulted in injuries to staff or inmates in a general population prison setting.” Moreover, it found that prisoners would use condoms if they were made available. A financial analysis of the program also found that it was potentially very cost effective. Putting the dispensers in prisons and stocking the condoms costs $1.39 per inmate. In contrast, it costs $41,000 a year to treat one prisoner who has AIDS. This means that if the program prevented just three or four HIV infections, it would have paid for itself. Unfortunately, since the program only lasted a year, it was impossible to determine what impact, if any, it had on HIV rates in prison.

Despite the positive results of the test program, some lawmakers are still not on board with providing condoms to prisoners. Assembly member Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) said in a statement, “This bill aids and abets illegal sexual activity by inmates. We need to enforce current rules against inmate sexual activity, not promote it. In this time of budget crisis, this is the last place we need to spend our public safety’s limited budget. This bill exposes the state to liability if distributed condoms fail and the inmate nonetheless becomes infected with a sexually transmitted disease.”

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