by Rod Mickleburgh
Toronto Globe and Mail
TORONTO - Canadian federal corrections officials are considering an end to the ban on sex between prisoners, in light of the government's decision to make condoms available.
The issue has arisen because the new policy will put prisons in the odd position of handing out condoms to prisoners who may not legally use them.
"We're aware of this dichotomy, and we are looking at changes," said Dr. Jacques Roy, director general of healthcare services for Corrections Canada.
Roy said yesterday that sex between prisoners has always been considered a violation of the federal Penitentiary Act on the grounds that it disturbs "good order and discipline" in the prison.
"But now we are wondering whether this interpretation of the act will still stand. We're asking for new legal advice." Corrections communications director John Vandoremalen said sexual activity "is a disciplinary offense within the institution, but that is starting to be questioned. By providing condoms, we are acknowledging the existence of homosexual relations in our prisons. We are not condoning it, but we can't stick our heads in the sand."
He said the biggest roadblock to ending the sex ban is that many incidents are of a "predatory nature." However, other officials point out that sexual-assault charges could still be filed in such cases.
Roy said there have been no Canadian studies into the frequency of sexual relations, but a U.S. study found that about 20 percent of prisoners engaged in homosexual activity. Despite the fact that sex in prison is illegal, Roy said he knows of no federal prisoners charged with the offense in recent years.
He welcomed the government's decision last week to distribute condoms to prisoners as a means of preventing the spread of the AIDS virus. Forty prisoners are known to have the AIDS virus among the approximately 11,000 now in federal penitentiaries, said Roy. They include two who have shown symptoms of fully developed AIDS.
He said this represents a significant increase from 27 prisoners known to have the virus 18 months ago.
Unlike the United States, Canada does not have mandatory AIDS testing of prisoners, and many observers believe the actual number of infected prisoners is much higher.
A prisoner's AIDS status is kept confidential from both guards and fellow convicts.
Meanwhile, Roy said no decision has been made on the best way for prisoners to obtain condoms. "But my advice is that they be handed out through our health-care centers, and I can assure you my advice is relied on a lot," he said.
He said that is the method used by the state of Vermont, which has been giving condoms to prisoners since 1988. Roy said about 10 percent of prisoners in Vermont asked for a condom during the program's first year of operation.
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