updated 8/26/2006 1:25:29 AM ET 2006-08-26T05:25:29

Public health agencies and nonprofits would begin distributing condoms to California prison inmates under a bill sent this week to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a measure modeled after similar programs in other states and cities.

Democrats who support the effort said making condoms available will help control the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"Everyone knows that sex happens in prison, and short of solitary confinement for all ... inmates, the state is unable to prevent it," Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, said in a statement.

Various studies put the incidence of homosexual activity inside prisons at between 30 percent and 60 percent of male inmates, while the rate of HIV infection is at least five times that of the outside population, Koretz said.

Critics say the spread of sexual diseases could be prevented by enforcing state law, which bans sex between inmates. Republicans who oppose the bill said distributing condoms in prisons will only encourage sex between male inmates.

Sen. Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno, said the bill "sends entirely the wrong message."

"Prisons are to punish criminals. They shouldn't be sanctioning activities that are illicit," said Poochigian, who is running for state attorney general.

Instead, Poochigian said state prisons should clamp down on prison gang activity, which encourages sexual acts between inmates.

The bill's opponents also said inmates could use condoms as weapons or as devices to hide illegal drugs.

California prisons have an average of 1,240 inmates infected with HIV/AIDS, costing the department more than $18 million a year in health care, according 2003-2004 data provided by the state Department of Corrections.

Condoms are available in prisons in Vermont and Mississippi, as well as in jails in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and the District of Columbia, according to research by Koretz's office.

Australia, Canada, most of the European Union and parts of Latin America also allow condoms to be distributed in prison, according to the Koretz research, which was compiled from AIDS foundations and academic studies.

The Senate approved the bill Thursday 22-16 along party lines.

A Schwarzenegger spokesman said the governor had not taken a position on the bill.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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