It’s gotta be an Onion parody, right?

“The United States will never contain deadly diseases like AIDS and hepatitis C until it prevents them from spreading behind bars, where infection levels are many times as high as in the world outside and the diseases spread easily, thanks in part to unprotected sex among inmates. Routine testing and education programs in prison are a must. But so are common-sense programs that distribute condoms behind bars.”

But noooo–the above is an excerpt from a New York Times editorial supporting a bill in the California Legislature that would require prison officials to hand out taxpayer-subsidized condoms to inmates–even though sex between inmates is a violation of prison rules in California and everywhere else in the country.

The Gray Lady editorialists add that condom programs “are unavailable in about 95 percent of this country’s prisons…despite studies showing that same-sex encounters behind bars are more common than prison officials care to admit.”

Trouble is (hat tip to Christianity Today blogger Ted Olsen), that studies show that about 20 percent of those “same-sex encounters behind bars” are involuntary. A 2000 study of seven Midwestern prisons reported that one in 10 male prisoners had been raped by older, tougher inmates, sometimes in brutal gang assaults.

Women prisoners are also frequent targets of sexual assault or abuse because, thanks to our sisters in the militant feminist movement, there is now a “right” to work as a guard in a prison housing the opposite sex. (Male guards in women’s prisons were unheard-of until the 1970s, but nowadays they’re as omnipresent as starch on the menu at the prison cafeteria.) A summary of the Midwest study by the watchdog group Stop Prisoner Rape reports:

“Among women behind bars, young and mentally ill inmates and first-time offenders are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault by male staff….Male custodial officials have vaginally, anally, and orally raped female prisoners and have abused their authority by exchanging goods and privileges for sex. Male corrections officers are often allowed to watch female inmates when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet, and some regularly engage in verbal degradation and harassment of women prisoners. Women also report groping and other sexual abuse by male staff during pat frisks and searches.”

As Olsen points out, the New York Times reported in April that it’s hard enough to get gay men on the outside to use condoms (which is why the frequency of HIV-infection is currently soaring). As Times reporter Andrew Jacobs put it:

“The reality that gay men continue to have unprotected sex has been vexing health experts for 20 years, although the struggle became even more daunting in the mid-1990’s, when a new class of medications sharply reduced death rates and fed the misconception that AIDS is only about as troublesome as the flu.

“And then there are those who disdain condoms. With the specter of imminent death gone, the idea of using condoms has become an annoyance for many. ‘Let’s face it, sex with a condom is not as good,’ said Dr. Robert L. Klitzman, a psychiatrist and professor at Columbia University. ‘Sex is supposed to be an incredibly intimate moment, and it’s not as intimate when there’s a piece of plastic between you and your partner.’

“There is a growing sense that the traditional sloganeering about condoms and club drugs is about as effective as birth-control campaigns that rely on abstinence.”

Nonetheless, the Pollyannas on the Times editorial page seem to think that, while condom-promotion doesn’t work among law-abiding gay men on the outside, it will work just fine among hardened criminals and the kind of prison guards who regard vulnerable women inmates as objects for their personal pleasure. The editorialists write:

“After all, the country needs all the tools it can get in the fight against AIDS.”

Yeah, such as shrugging your shoulders at the unconscionable horror of prison rape.