The fast rising rate of HIV in Jamaican prisons have the country again debating whether they should start issuing condoms to inmates. This time even the church has gotten involved with clergymen saying that if prison warders cannot stop sexual activities in the prison then the best solution is to introduce condoms to stop the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Under the buggery law, men having sex with men is illegal in Jamaica but it is a law that the government has never strictly enforced.
The past weekend 18 Karat Reggae reported on a study conducted by the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) which showed that the HIV rate among Jamaican male prisoners was 6.9 percent, more than 3 times above the general population.
Clergyman and human-rights campaigner, Father Sean Major-Campbell, said that the government should start issuing condoms to prisoners as it was “basic common sense” to combat what is an obvious health crisis.
“We are hiding our heads in the sand when we try to moralize and say this is illegal,” Major-Campbell said.
“We have to realize that in that broad subjective area of human sexuality, there is circumstantial same-gender intimacy, where individuals whose primary identity in terms of sex orientation is not that of same-gender intimacy, but they will actually relate that way in certain circumstances, as in prison, or in war, where the opposite gender may not be readily available over time,” he said.
Major-Campbell said such persons would likely revert to their primary sexual orientation.
Director of medical services at the Department of Correctional Services, Dr. Donna-Michelle Royer-Powe, disagrees with the clergyman. She refers to the 1997 riot at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre during when several inmates were killed and 40 injured.
“When Colonel John Prescod tried to introduce condoms in prison years ago, even before I got there, there was a riot, and several persons died, because what they interpreted it to say was that that means you are saying we’re having sex with each other and you know Jamaica is very homophobic,” Royer-Powe said.
“The general population is very homophobic. We have your few who we know they are homosexual, but they are a minority in the prison, and the other thing is that the buggery law is still in effect, so condoms are illegal in the prison. What we’re looking at now as a possibility for prevention is using the HIV treatment,” Royer-Powe added.
Executive director of human-rights group Stand Up for Jamaica, Carla Gullotta, also disagrees with condoms being issued and she too brought up the 1997 riots when the government attempted to curb the spread of disease with the introduction of prophylactics.
“Since that time, nobody has been raising the issue anymore, but I think the main thing to do is an education campaign in terms of sexual health. About the condom, I would be very careful, knowing the reaction, but I believe in education, and that if you teach them how to use the condom, you would have taught them for when they go back to society,” said Gullotta.
“We don’t want to encourage it further by providing the means, but at the same time, we have to be concerned about the fact that it is a reality, it is happening, and the risks associated with it, so in a sense, some decisions will have to be made,” she said.
Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton urged correctional authorities to review the conditions of incarceration and how they are managed, as well as how inmates are grouped.
“There is one part of the narrative that speaks to rape, for example, which means that, or suggests that, some are not necessarily infected through voluntarily sexual activity, some may be forced, and that clearly would be concerning also and would require some sort of examination.”
Rudyard Spencer, state minister in the Ministry of National Security, under whose oversight prisons fall, declined comment, saying he would have to consult with correctional officials before making a statement.