Review condom policy for prisoners

Tuesday, February 22, 2011    

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Dear Editor,

The HIV prevalence rate among Jamaican prisoners is twice the national average. As far back as the 1990s, Dr Raymoth Notice, former prison doctor in Spanish Town, and later mayor of that town, responded to the growing HIV epidemic by recommending the distribution of condoms to inmates. He was supported by then Commissioner of Corrections Colonel John Prescod who in 1997 quietly ordered the issuing of condoms to prisoners.

Whether out of desperation or desire, the fact is men have sex with each other in prison, usually without protection. Upon their release, many of these men take HIV back to their (often multiple) female partners. Colonel Prescod's enlightened approach was met with a prison riot in which 17 persons were killed, including warders. As a result, there was a quick policy reversal on the guise that by distributing condoms to inmates, prison officials were aiding and abetting a criminal offence, namely buggery.

In a recent discussion with a prison warder I was advised that condoms remain contraband in prisons, but some warders make a tidy profit trading in them. For inmates who can't afford to pay they resort to the use of plastic "scandal" bags. Jamaican supermarkets are now going green and will soon cease the distribution of this major prophylaxis used by prisoners - plastic bags. It is therefore time to review the policy and the law which prevents the distribution of condoms to prisoners. Otherwise we can expect an increased HIV prevalence among inmates and their partners.

Maurice Tomlinson

Montego Bay, St James





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