Canceled Canadian Prison Tattoo Program Reduced Risk of HIV, Report Says

A Canadian prison tattoo parlor program that was canceled by the government was cost-effective and successful in raising awareness and reducing the risk of bloodborne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, according to a new report from the Correctional Service of Canada, the Alberta Daily Herald-Tribune reports. The 70-page report -- dated January 2009 but just publicly released -- said that early results of the federal pilot program "indicate potential to reduce harm, reduce exposure to health risk, and enhance the health and safety of staff members, inmates and the general public." The program -- which cost about one million Canadian dollars, or about $820,000 -- was launched at six federal prisons across Canada in 2005 but was canceled by then Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day in 2006. According to the Herald-Tribune, the move was hailed by some taxpayers and other groups but condemned by prisoners' advocates, who argued the decision was made based on ideology rather than pragmatism.

Among its 11 key findings, the report said that under the program, there was a reduction in seized tattoo contraband and "illicit" tattooing in medium-security prisons, which suggests a decreased risk of contact with previously used needles. Additionally, the report said that cost of the program was "low" when compared with its potential benefits and that it provided work skills that could be used in the community after inmates are released. Although there are some issues related to the program's implementation -- such as providing sufficient skill level, training and availability for the sessions -- the report concluded that the program was "consistent with the goals and objective of the federal initiative to address HIV/AIDS in Canada." The prevalence of HIV is 10 times higher in Canadian prisons than in the general population, and the prevalence of hepatitis C is 20 times higher, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said. Christopher McCluskey, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, said the federal government has no intention to reinstate the program. He said CSC "continues to provide education and information to inmates on the risks of disease transmission from needles for drugs or any other purpose" (Harris, Daily Herald-Tribune, 4/15).

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