Officials debate need for condoms in Shelby County Jail

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A local chaplain and administrators from the Shelby County Jail debated Wednesday over whether or not to offer condoms to jail mates.

During a discussion about HIV and AIDS at the jail during a Shelby County Commission meeting, chaplain Novella Arnold-Smith challenged commissioners to consider putting condoms in local jails.

"I'm not condoning anything," she said. "It's something we need because that does go on in our jails.  Men do that, and they come back to the community, and we are infected."

Through both consensual and non-consensual sex in jails, Arnold-Smith said, inmates are contracting HIV/AIDS and taking it out into the general public.

Shelby County Sheriff's Department Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy rebutted her comments, saying the jail has no reports of sexual assaults in the Shelby County Jail, and that the percentage of HIV/AIDS in local jails is low.

"I'm just having a little trouble reconciling the message that we would be sending to issue condoms as you come in," Kennedy said. "And what kind of message would we be giving individuals regarding their safety?"

Shelby County Commissioner J.W. Gibson brought Arnold-Smith and jail administrators into his office after the discussion because he thought they could come to an agreement, but no resolution is on the table.

The most recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice, from 2006, found 1.7% of inmates in U.S. jails and state prisons are infected with HIV/AIDS.  In Shelby County, 2.04% of inmates tested had HIV/AIDS, but that percentage only included the one third of the inmate population that agreed to be tested.

Action News 5 will continue to follow this story.

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