In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Safe Tattooing Trial Sites Set Up in Six Prisons

Prison program provides low-cost tattoos
November 10, 2005
CBC News

Inmates are lining up for a pilot project that provides low-cost tattoos at the Rockwood Institution, north of Winnipeg.

The project aims to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis or HIV, when inmates give each other tattoos using such items as paper clips and pens.

Rockwood is one of six correctional facilities across the country taking part in the $700,000 program.

Connie Johannson, assistant warden at the minimum-security prison, says 21 inmates have paid the $5 to get a tattoo in the program since September.

While Johannson says the fee may sound cheap, it's worth it when weighed against the enormous cost to society posed by infectious diseases.

"We consider these harm-reduction approaches to reduce the cost that eventually comes to you in the community, because the majority of our offenders are eventually released to your community and mine, and those costs transferred over to us."

Three inmates have been trained to give the tattoos; they are paid $6.90 per day for their work. Shawn Sorensen, one of the tattoo artists, says tattooing is a tradition in the prison system, and removing the risk of infection may actually encourage more inmates to come forward to get one.

"I think it's probably one of the best things they could actually do," said Shawn Sorensen, one of the tattoo artists.

"I've seen a lot of people do tattoos in jail, and I've seen a lot of stuff done where how they're doing the tattoos is totally unsafe. So if they're going to spend the money and use taxpayers' money for this kind of project, you're probably saving a lot more money from people getting diseases."

Johannson says there are limits on what kinds of tattoos are allowed. There can be no names, no gang insignia, and nothing deemed "offensive to the public."

The project will be evaluated when it ends in March 2006.


Prison tattoo parlour busy
November 11, 2005
CBC News

A maximum security prison in Renous, N.B. has opened a tattoo parlour in an effort to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C behind bars.

Anthony Sharratt has been giving illegal tattoos to other inmates inside prison for the last 20 years. Now, the convicted murderer works as the resident tattoo artist in the maximum-security Atlantic Institution in Renous.

"People have been known to put cigarette ashes, mixed with toothpaste under the skin. As far as needles are concerned, I've seen guys use sewing needles, sharpened paper clips, the twist ties off cookie bags."

And he's tired of watching people get sick from sharing needles.

"When you run low on supplies, people will scrimp and use possibly ink over and needles over and that's why the creation of the shop like this. For me, that's the overriding factor. Four out of five of my friends are infected with hepatitis, and those are the ones who know about it."

Now, Corrections Canada is cleaning up what Sharratt calls a reality of prison culture. It is spending $700,000 to set up six in-prison parlours across the country. The funding comes from the federal government under the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada.

Acting warden David Niles hopes the year-long pilot project will eliminate another reality of prison culture: the staggering infection rates in prison. An inmate is 10 times more likely to have HIV, and 25 times more likely to have Hepatitis C, than a person on the street. Officials believe sharing needles is partly to blame for the high infection levels.

Niles said the prison system has to deal with the health issues, and the inmates will eventually return to the community for more care.

"It costs about $20,000 to $25,000 annually to care for someone with HIV or Hep C, and if we can reduce even by one or two cases, that is going to save the taxpayer in the long run."

A two-hour session costs $5, or around 80 per cent of the daily wage a prisoner would make working on the inside.

Ralph White, who is in the tattoo chair on this day, said getting a safe tattoo is worth the money. "I wouldn't have gotten one on the units, just cuz the chance of getting a disease, it's just too high," said the convicted murderer.

The rules for tattoos are strict, nothing above the collar, below the wrists or on the genitals. And no numbers or gang symbols.

There are also strict controls on the tattoo equipment. Everything in the parlour is counted before and after each visit to ensure it doesn't make it to the prison floor.

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