ASSEMBLY | There is no law on the books against dropping soap in a prison shower. But, Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s bill that would allow non-profits to distribute condoms in state prisons passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee this week.

Bonta says prisoners are 8-10 times more likely to be infected by HIV/AIDS than the general population. “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,” Bonta said of the bill that now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

AB 999 is a variation on a similar bill authored by former East Bay Assemblyman Sandre Swanson six years ago and later vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, says Bonta. However, a veto message urged for a pilot program to study condom distribution in jails, later attempted at Solano State Prison in 2008-09.

Not only will condoms help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, it will also protect those in the community when prisoners integrate back into neighborhoods, said Bonta. It will also save money.

“If the moral principle of keeping innocent vulnerable populations safe from deadly disease doesn’t compel you,” said Bonta, “the financial considerations are also persuasive.” While prisoners with HIV/AIDS can cost Medi-Cal almost $24,000 annually, Bonta says the Solano pilot program showed the cost to implement is just $1.39 per person and the prisoners tend to use the distributed condoms.

“The condoms don’t increase the incidence of consensual sex or rape,” he added, “but they do create an inexpensive barrier to a deadly disease.”