In 2005, $350,000 in startup funds plus $600,000 for operating costs were allocated to implement a safe-tattoo program in six federal prisons. [See: PLN, August 2006].
During its one year of operation, prisoners lined up to pay $5.00 apiece for sanitary tattoos using clean needles. But after the pilot program ended on September 30, 2006, the government announced in December 2006 that it would discontinue the project.
?Our government will not spend taxpayers? money on providing tattoos for convicted criminals,? said Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. ?We have programs that talk about the risks of unsafe tattoo practices,? he said.
The cost of the safe-tattoo initiative may also have been a deciding factor; the Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimated it would cost $5.8 million per year to expand the program to all 58 federal prisons plus an additional $2.6 million in start-up expenses ? which is a lot of red ink.
But at least one person felt that action is better than talk. Joanne Csete, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS legal network, stated the program was worth keeping. ?It?s hard to understand what the rationale could be for essentially encouraging unsafe tattooing,? she said.
Canadian prisoners are at 10 times the risk for contracting HIV than the general population and about 30 times the risk for Hepatitis C. Approximately 35% of prisoners in British Columbia already have Hep C.
?The tattooing program is one that pays for itself just by averting a few infections in each site,? said Csete. Graham Stewart, director of Canada?s John Howard Society, also spoke out against discontinuing the program before the results were known.
Unfortunately for Canadian prisoners, and Canadian citizens who may be at risk after prisoners with HIV and Hep C are released, the government apparently didn?t look at the big picture in terms of disease prevention through safe tattooing.
Sources: Canadian Press, National Bureau; www.abbynews.com; www.cbc.ca; www.winnipegsun.com.
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