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Correctional Service Canada to undertake Safer Tattooing Practices Initiative

14th October 2004

From Canadian HIV/AIDS Policy & Law Review, Volume 9, Number 2, August 2004.  Published by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

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In 1994, the Expert Committee on AIDS and Prisons recommended that tattooing equipment and supplies be authorized for use in federal correctional institutions, and that prisoners who would offer tattooing services to other prisoners be instructed on how to use tattooing equipment safely.[1] Ten years later, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) has finally announced that, as part of a Safer Tattooing Practices Initiative, it will set up safer tattooing pilot projects in six federal prisons in 2004, and evaluate the initiative.

There has been concern about the potential spread of infectious diseases, particularly hepatitis C, but also HIV, through the sharing of tattooing equipment in prisons. Forty-five percent of respondents to CSC's 1995 Inmate Survey said they had had a tattoo done in prison. [2]

Under the Safer Tattooing Practices Initiative, tattoo parlours will be set up in federal prisons in all regions, including in one institution for women. These parlours will be administered by prisoners themselves, under the supervision of CSC staff.

The union representing the 5700 federal correctional officers made its opposition to the initiative public in a press release on 22 May 2004, suggesting that the "initiative is a misguided response to increasing rates of infectious disease, does not respond to CSC's mandate, and poses unacceptable risks to security for its members, inmates, and the community at large." [3] Once again, the union is thus opposing measures aimed at reducing the spread of infection in prisons, and at protecting the health of prisoners, staff, and the public.

In contrast, community advocates expressed support for CSC's initiative, although they suggested that CSC is doing too little, too late. They are concerned that many prisoners may not access the tattoo parlours that will be set up because too many rules and regulations may deter prisoners. They pointed to a comprehensive policy document on tattooing developed in consultation with prisoners that suggests alternative approaches to regulating tattooing in prisons. [4] Finally, they also called upon CSC to implement pilot needle exchange programs.

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[1] HIV/AIDS in Prisons: Final Report of the Expert Committee on AIDS and Prisons. Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada, 1994, at 80 (recommendation 6.4).

[2] CSC. 1995 National Inmate Survey: Final Report. Ottawa: The Service (Correctional Research and Development), 1996 No SR-02.

[3] UCCO-SACC-CSN opposes prison tattoo initiative. Press release of 22 May 2004. Available at www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/May2004/22/c6783.html.

[4] P Collins et al. Driving the point home: a strategy for safer tattooing in prisons. Toronto: PASAN, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, HIV/AIDS Regional Services, 2003. Available via www.pasan.org.