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.”

News Law and Policy

New Jersey Democrats: Harshen Drug Use Penalties—But Only for Pregnant People

Kanya D’Almeida

Advocates say the bill’s language is “blatantly discriminatory” toward pregnant people, and will deter them from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment.

A bill pre-filed in the New Jersey state legislature would criminalize the “use [of] a controlled dangerous substance or prescription drug while pregnant,” upgrading the offense from a misdemeanor to a felony for pregnant people.

Sponsored by a trio of Democratic Assembly members—Bob Andrzejczak (Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland), Joseph A. Lagana (Bergen and Passaic), and R. Bruce Land (Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland)—AB 774 would amend a law concerning controlled substances and certain prescription drugs. The proposed measure states that a person who is found to be under the influence of these substances “for a purpose other than the treatment of sickness or injury as lawfully prescribed or administered by a physician is a disorderly person unless the person is pregnant during the commission of the offense, in which case it is a crime of the fourth degree.”

In New Jersey law, a felony is referred to as a “crime” and a crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a prison term of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both, while a misdemeanor is called a “disorderly person offense,” which carries a possible term of imprisonment of up to six months, or up to a $1,000 fine.

Advocates say the bill’s language is “blatantly discriminatory” toward pregnant people, and will deter them from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment.

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“My concern about this type of law is that it sets up a situation in which prosecutors get to decide who gets health care and who gets handcuffs,” Farah Diaz-Tello, senior staff attorney with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told Rewire in a phone interview. “This is one of the most resoundingly discriminatory statements we’ve ever seen.”

Diaz-Tello also said the bill, if passed, would “certainly fall most heavily on low-income women and women of color. People who don’t have access to private health care or private treatment for substance use are the ones who are going to get turned over to police.”

“Those who have the money and privilege to receive the type of care that will absolutely protect their confidentiality aren’t going to have to worry about the law, which is really about controlling certain groups of people,” she added.

Roseanne Scotti, the Drug Policy Alliance’s state director for New Jersey, said the bill raises concerns in a state like New Jersey where, by some estimates, “half the adults seeking drug treatment can’t get it because we simply don’t fund it at the level to create adequate access.”

Scotti explained in a phone interview with Rewire that the state does not properly track the number of people in need of drug treatment, yet it continues to incarcerate residents for drug use, and put up barriers for those seeking care, particularly those from marginalized communities.

“Finding drug treatment is particularly challenging for women in general, and low-income women of color in particular, because they often have families, [and] may have other children who they are the primary caretakers for,” Scotti said. “Many drug treatment centers won’t even take in a pregnant woman, and certainly won’t take in a woman with children, and so women end up having to fend for themselves. The way to address this issue is to remove these barriers, not criminalize pregnant women.”

Both Scotti and Diaz-Tello suggested that the proposed bill likely will not go far.

This is a very unusual bill,” Diaz-Tello explained, adding that, unlike the largely GOP-sponsored attempt to criminalize pregnant people and curtail reproductive autonomy nationwide, many of this legislation’s co-sponsors are Democrats. “One of them, Assembly member Valerie Vainieri Huttle, recently sponsored New Jersey’s anti-shackling bill and … has [pushed] for protections for breastfeeding parents and a Maternity Care Report Card that requires reporting of cesarean and vaginal birth rates at the hospital levelso I have high hopes that when people like her see the pushback they’re going to get from the medical and public health community, they’re going to re-think their strategy.”

Diaz-Tello said the bill is likely based on the “misguided” notion that “some level of criminalization pushes people to get help through court-mandated drug treatment programs or other such measures.”

She said that approach is not borne out by medical research. Diaz-Tello pointed to statements by prominent voices within the health community, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that make clear pregnant patients tend to avoid seeking necessary prenatal care if they believe a health-care provider’s knowledge of their substance dependency, or other potentially harmful behaviors, could lead to jail sentences.

Scotti said she is hopeful that pressure from advocates will “prevent the bill from going anywhere.”

“But you never can tell—sometimes, things move when you don’t expect them to. If this does happen, it will certainly make women even more fearful and reluctant to seek prenatal care or drug treatment,” she said.

News Human Rights

Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners Could Soon End in New York

Zoe Greenberg

Shackling, which can include placing handcuffs, waist chains, and leg irons on a pregnant woman, has been widely denounced by the medical community.

A bill that would end the practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women in New York is making its way to the governor’s desk, after receiving overwhelming support in the state assembly and senate.

On Monday, in a rally organized by the Correctional Association of New York, activists, politicians, and formerly incarcerated women converged in front of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in midtown Manhattan to urge the Democratic governor to sign the bill.

The movement to end shackling is hardly new. New York in 2009 passed a law banning the use of shackles on incarcerated women during labor, delivery, and recovery. Shackling, which can include placing handcuffs, waist chains, and leg irons on a pregnant woman, has been widely denounced by the medical community: the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has called the practice “demeaning and unnecessary”; the American Medical Association simply calls it “barbaric.”

But since 2009, there have been widespread violations of the ban across New York. Out of 27 women who gave birth while in state corrections custody in the five years after the ban was passed, 23 were shackled in violation of the law, according to a report released this year by the Correctional Association.

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The shackling of pregnant women in prison is legal in 28 states.

The 2015 Anti-Shackling Bill expands the protections granted in the 2009 law, extending the ban on shackling to include the entire pregnancy as well as an eight-week postpartum period. The measure requires corrections officials to report any instances of shackling to the governor and state legislature each year.

It also prohibits correctional staff from being in the delivery room during birth, a practice that pregnant women have described as humiliating and traumatic.

There are about 4,000 women in New York state prisons and about 31,000 women in local corrections custody over the course of a year, according to the Correctional Association. Poor women and women of color are vastly over-represented in these numbers.

Crystal Degnitz, who gave birth to her daughter in 2014 while incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York, described her experiences with shackling as “awful” during a phone interview with Rewire. She was required to go to the doctor every day during her pregnancy, and for two months after. Degnitz says she was often shackled, with corrections officers attaching leg irons to her even when she was in the third trimester of her pregnancy.

Degnitz recalled a particularly painful trip after she gave birth, when she was transported with her newborn daughter to a pediatrician outside the prison.

“They kept us completely shackled: belly chains, black box, and leg irons, in wheelchairs, with an infant car seat on our laps,” Dengitz recalled. “When the babies had to eat, they still left everything on us, and kind of just put the baby up on our chest, and had us try to maneuver the bottle into their mouth.”

Supported by a wide range of medical and advocacy groups, from the American College of Nurse-Midwives to the Prison Policy Initiative, the bill has drawn opposition from the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, which has called the bill an “unfunded mandate” and criticized it for threatening public safety.

“There is nothing about a pregnant female—two months, or three months or six months pregnant—that makes her less dangerous than someone who is not pregnant,” Peter Kehoe, the director of the Sherriffs Association, told the Daily Star in July.

Local and state correctional facilities typically send two officers, one or both of whom are armed, to guard an incarcerated pregnant person when she is taken off prison or jail grounds, according to the Correctional Association.

“The experiences that Crystal talked about are echoed around the state, and unfortunately around the country,” Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association, told Rewire. “The fight for this bill is a fight to protect the basic health and human rights of incarcerated women.”