November 15, 2005
Canada has opened tattoo parlors in five federal prisons and a sixth one is to open later this month in a bid to curb the spread of blood-borne diseases. For $5 Canadian ($4.18 US) each, federal prisoners can get tattooed by trained fellow prisoners. Racist or gang-related designs are prohibited. The contentious pilot project is the first of its kind in Canada and is believed by some to be the first in the world.
By making tattoos openly accessible, officials hope to control the spread of infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV, said Correctional Service Canada (CSC) spokesperson Michele Pilon-Santilli. "I know we've had some criticism from individuals," she said. "The bottom line is this is a public health issue. It's harm reduction."
The project began in August when sites were chosen from each federal region. The total cost of the program is estimated at $700,000 Canadian ($586,551 US), said Pilon-Santilli. Though the tattoo parlors are scheduled to operate only until March 31, 2006, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) plans on applying for funding to extend the program.
Canada is also looking into whether to hand out clean needles to injection-drug using inmates. CSC and PHAC have signed an agreement to analyze the risks and benefits of a prison-based needle exchange program. Officials from the two agencies, along with representatives from the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers and the Professional Institute of Public Service, traveled to Germany and Spain in September to look at such programs there.