Sex Transm Infect doi:10.1136/sextrans-2012-050856
  • Epidemiology
  • Short Report

Condoms for prisoners: no evidence that they increase sex in prison, but they increase safe sex

Open Access
  1. Basil Donovan1,3
  1. 1Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Sydney Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Tony Butler, The Kirby Institute, UNSW Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia; tbutler{at}
  • Received 2 October 2012
  • Revised 6 December 2012
  • Accepted 9 December 2012
  • Published Online First 7 January 2013


Objectives To determine if the provision of condoms to prisoners in two Australian state prison systems with different policies affects sexual behaviour. In New South Wales’ (NSW) prisons, condoms are freely distributed, while in Queensland prisons none are distributed.

Methods We used a computer-assisted telephone interview to survey randomly selected prisoners in both states about their sexual behaviour in prison.

Results Two thousand and eighteen male prisoners participated. The proportion of prisoners reporting anal sex in prison was equally low in NSW (3.3%) and Queensland (3.6%; p=0.8). A much higher proportion of prisoners who engaged in anal sex in NSW (56.8%) than Queensland (3.1%; p<0.0001) reported they had used a condom if they had had anal sex in prison. Sexual coercion was equally rare in both prison systems.

Conclusions We found no evidence that condom provision to prisoners increased consensual or non-consensual sexual activity in prison. If available, condoms were much more likely to be used during anal sex. Condoms should be made available to prisoners as a basic human right.

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