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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
ACT UP Calls for Prison Condoms
Aaron Parsley
October 30, 2003
Gay City News (New York City) (10.23.03) - Thursday, October

On Oct. 21, members of ACT UP-NY assembled at the Lincoln State Correctional Facility in Harlem and demanded that the New York State Department of Health take over health care inside state prisons because, they claimed, the Department of Corrections is not fighting a crisis of HIV and hepatitis C infections among inmates. The activists said the crisis is the result of inadequate health care, a lack of testing, and a ban on condoms in state prisons.

The protest precedes a Nov. 14 hearing of the state Assembly Committee of Health in which three related bills are to be discussed. Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried (D-Manhattan) is sponsoring two bills that together would define the health care systems of state and local correctional facilities as hospitals, bringing them under the oversight of NYSDOH, and require that they implement HIV/STD education and prevention programs, including condom distribution.

"These are not earth-shattering proposals," said Ronald Johnson, associate executive director of Gay Men's Health Crisis. "It would just bring prison hospitals into line with the rest of the state." Emmaia Gelman from ACT UP-NY said that while state and federal health officials promote condom use to protect against HIV and hepatitis C, condoms are contraband in state prisons. "The CDC insists that people use condoms, but 60,000 inmates do not have access," Gelman said, adding that sex between inmates, while illegal, does take place. Group member Melvyn Stevens said he believes a lack of education, confidentiality and access to medication are all part of the problem.

Chino Hardin, who has spent time at Rikers Island correctional facility, said she tested HIV-positive while incarcerated, but all her tests since she was released have come back negative. Hardin believes she was told she was HIV-positive because she is lesbian. "The same thing happened to a friend," Hardin said. "I think it's happening on purpose. It's a form of punishment."