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Administration Rules Out Condoms For Federal Prisoners

June 29, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government plans to test thousands of federal prison inmates in the coming months for AIDS but has no plans to give them condoms because it might be seen as condoning homosexual sex, a key official says.

Robert Brutsche, medical director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and an assistant attorney general, said homosexual sex is against prison regulations ″and we don’t feel we can have a two-faced position.″

Brutsche, who heads the 2-week-old AIDS testing program for federal prisoners, said in an interview that there was strong sentiment in the Reagan administration against distributing condoms to federal prisoners.

″That has really been ruled out at the present time,″ he said.

Vermont prison officials said in March that inmates in that state’s institutions could begin receiving condoms on request. A similar pilot program was begun in New York City jails the following month.

There has been talk within the administration of having separate prisons for inmates testing positive for the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus.

″Obviously it’s something we have to keep in mind,″ Brutsche said. ″It would be too strong to say we are considering it. It’s been talked about briefly.″

Brutsche said such prisons would be hard to staff and would require officials to group ″all different classes of prisoners together with only one thing in common - AIDS.″

Brutsche was interviewed this past week as the government slowly began receiving figures from the program, begun June 15, of conducting AIDS tests on incoming and outgoing prisoners at the 47 federal prisons. The results are to be studied and initial conclusions made after the first 60 days.

At that time the administration may discontinue testing new prisoners and keep only that part of the program involving inmates about to be discharged, Brutsche said.

However, the administration plans to continue tests every six months on all new inmates not found this summer to be carrying the AIDS virus. By tracking this ″virgin″ study group for as long as they are incarcerated, officials hope to learn about the risks of AIDS exposure among new prisoners.

The government expects to test 2,300 incoming prisoners and 2,300 outgoing prisoners per month. Prison administrators are making few predictions about what they will find, other than to say that prisons with high proportions of intravenous drug users are likely to show higher AIDS rates than others.

″Certainly there are IV drug users and there is some homosexuality that goes on. But we would not expect this to be a rampant situation any more than in the general population,″ Brutsche said.

He said sex in federal prisons is ″not that prevalent″ and that the numbers of homosexual rape ″appear to be extremely low.″

But Urvashi Vaid, an attorney and AIDS consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said the government may not be looking realistically at its prisons.

″People are sexual beings and there is situational bisexuality in prison,″ she said. ″That’s something the government doesn’t acknowledge. And inmates don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to be labeled as gay.″

The real problem, Vaid said, is that reliable information on AIDS is lacking in many prisons.

″Before we launch into widespread testing we need a situation where there is pre-test and post-test counseling, real confidentiality and other safeguards,″ she said.

New federal prison inmates are shown an audiovisual presentation describing AIDS and how the AIDS virus, called HTLV-III, is transmitted. While the government used to test only prisoners showing signs of AIDS, Brutsche said that since June 15 the blood tests have been given to inmates on demand.

Prison medical personnel are told of positive AIDS cases, and the information is made available to wardens, Brutsche said. He said the government encourages isolation of AIDS patients but that overcrowding often makes that impossible.

Parolees with AIDS are counseled about the risk of infecting others. Regional corrections officials and probation officers are informed and are expected to steer the former inmate away from behavior that is dangerous to the community, Brutsche said.

Since 1981, 297 federal inmates have been found to have been infected with the AIDs virus, according to prisons bureau spokeswoman Maryellen Thoms.

Of the 43,200 inmates in the federal system, 30 have been diagnosed as having AIDS, based on the limited testing before June 15. Another 146 current inmates have tested positive without showing enough symptoms to be considered as having the disease.

AIDS attacks the body’s immune system, rendering it incapable of resisting other diseases and infections. The chief victims of AIDS in the United States have been intravenous drug users and homosexual men.

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