In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Safe Tattooing Sites to be Set Up in Federal Prisons

6 Federal Prisons Getting Tattoo Parlours
January 27, 2005
CBC News

OTTAWA - Federal prison officials are setting up tattoo services at six correctional institutions, in spite of the concerns of guards that inmates will use the needles as weapons.

Inmates will be trained to operate the tattoo services, which are designed to stem the spread of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C.

Correctional Service Canada officials say prisoners have long used odd objects to give each other tattoos, including pieces of old VCR motors and the casings from pens. They say there's no way to guarantee the cleanliness of such items.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is opposing the move, warning in May 2004 that the proposed plan "poses unacceptable risks to security for [our] members, inmates and the community at large."

The union also said inmates use tattoos to display their membership in prison gangs, a tactic that could work against their re-integration into the community after they are released.

Dr. Françoise Bouchard, the prison system's director general of health services, said about 40 per cent of inmates already receive a tattoo from another inmate during their sentence.

"Those who are not infected are exposed to potentially acquiring disease while they are in prison," said Bouchard. "Then, we are increasing the risk to the general population when they're going back in the community."

Public health departments support the idea of tattoos being administered in a cleaner environment, said Dr. Ian Gemmil, the medical officer of health in Kingston.

One of the six tattoo parlours will be set up in a medium-security institution in the eastern Ontario city.

"We do know that a lot of people enter the prison system with blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C. If one can have standards in place in which good disinfection is used, these things are better than doing it in a dark corner somewhere," said Gemmil.

The Correctional Service plans to evaluate the tattoo services in a year to see if they've had any effect on the spread of infectious diseases.


This is a press release from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network about Safe Tatooting Sites.

CSC Applauded for Leadership on Safer Tattooing

Toronto, 28 January 2005 – Correctional Service Canada’s safer tattooing pilot programs are a step forward for the health of prisoners, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said today.

“Prisoners have been tattooing for years, despite the risk of HIV and hepatitis C transmission and the fact that possession of tattooing equipment is illegal in prison,” said Glenn Betteridge, Senior Policy Analyst. “With this program CSC is taking seriously its legal responsibility to provide prisoners with the means to protect their health.”

Tattooing is a recognized part of Canadian prison culture, despite the fact that up until now it has been illegal in federal prisons. Studies have shown that tattooing performed in unhygienic conditions risks transmitting HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and hepatitis C (a serious blood-borne disease that attacks the liver). Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) is responsible for “the care and custody of inmates”.

In 1994, CSC’s own Expert Committee on AIDS and Prisons recommended safer tattooing programs. This recommendation has also been made in reports by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Prisoners’ HIV/AIDS Support Action Network, and the Correctional Investigator Canada. CSC recently announced that it was beginning to introduce pilot safer tattooing programs in six institutions across Canada. Under the programs, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, prisoner tattoo artists will be trained in infection prevention and control practices, and have access to sterile tattooing equipment. The programs will be evaluated at the end of one year.

“For years we have been asking CSC to work with federal public health officials, community organizations and prisoners to implement innovative measures to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C in prisons”, said Betteridge. “These safer tattooing pilots are an example of the kind of federal inter-agency cooperation that has to happen if we are going to reduce the spread of these diseases.” The Legal Network called on CSC to ensure that prisoners, and community organizations working with prisoners, have an opportunity to provide input throughout the implementation and evaluation of the pilot tattoo programs.


More information on the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network at