ASSEMBLY | 18TH DISTRICT | Oakland Assemblymember Rob Bonta’s first attempt to expand the distribution of condoms to state inmates in order to fight the impacts of high rates of sexually-transmitted diseases failed last October when Gov. Jerry Brown sidestepped the issue and vetoed the bill.

This week, the State Assembly approved Bonta’s reworked bill that focuses this time around on formulating a five-year plan for the distribution of condom in state prisons. Sexual intercourse among prisoners, however, is illegal although Bonta has long stated the consequences of unprotected sex for both prisoners and the population, at large. “Sexually transmitted disease is a tragic reality of life in prison,” Bonta said last week.

The bill vetoed by Brown last year was more direct in allowing for a pilot program to begin distribution of condoms. Brown, though, did not tackle the efficacy of the program nor the potential health concerns. In a veto message, he wrote, “The Department [of Corrections and Rehabilitation] currently allows family visitors to bring condoms for the purpose of the family overnight visitation program.”

Within both iterations of the prison condom bill, economics play a large part in the effort. Bonta says the cost of the program could be as low a $1.39 per prisoner. Conversely, taxpayer-paid medical bills for incarcerated HIV/AIDS patients can run as high as $24,000 annually. “The data speaks for itself. Over the life of the patient, a single infection can cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. The long-term benefits to vulnerable communities, and to the budget, are well-worth the modest state investment in providing condoms to state prisoners,” he said.

Bonta has another prison-related bill up for reconsideration from the last legislative session. A bill allowing community colleges full funding for courses offered in jails awaits a vote before the full Assembly. Bills from the previous session must be approved in the house of their origin before this Friday.