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Canadian Prison Sanctioned Skin-Art Saving Society Health Problems

Six Canadian prisons are paying prisoner tattoo-artists to ply their trade. The experimental government training program was initiated as an attempt to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

Legal tattooing ensures equipment will be sterile and sanitary. Connie Johannson, assistant warden at Manitobas Rockwood Institution, north of Winnipeg, reasons that "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."

The pilot program was initiated at a cost of $700,000. Prisoners trained as tattoo-artists are paid $6.90 per day while customers pay $5.00 per pattern. Prisoners are lining up to pay the fee. Names, gang logos and designs deemed offensive to the public are not allowed.

Prisoners also praised the idea. "Pretty smart thing", said Ray Trottier as he engraved a skull and crossbones on another prisoner.  "They should have did this years ago."

"I think its probably one of the best things they could actually do", said skin-artist Shawn Sorensen. "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".

Sorensen is referring to instances in which pens and paper clips are fashioned into make-shift needles and almost always reused on numerous prisoners. Infections from illegal tattoos incur both medical and financial costs for both taxpayers and prisoners.

"So if theyre going to spend the money and use taxpayers money for this kind of project, youre probably saving a lot more money from people getting diseases", said Sorenstam.

Naturally, there are some disgruntled observers. "Guards fear that the tattoo equipment can be used as weapons", says union spokesman Kevin Grabowsky. For now the project is continuing as a pilot project. Canadian prisons also distribute condoms to prisoners upon request in an effort to stem the spread of HIV and HCV.

Source: CBS News

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