There was a news story recently about a prison tattoo program (Modified Mind posted it in the "Headlines" section with this link: http://www.365gay.com/Newscon07/01/011307tattoo.htm). What do you think of this program? Should it have been axed? Should other body modification related programs be developed and if so, what are your ideas?  
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modification enthusiast and freelance writer.

IAM Page: saram

Body modification procedures carry a high risk of disease if they are done without proper attention to sterility. A prison is a particularly poor place to get a piercing or tattoo -- the incidence of communicable disease is significantly higher than in the outside population, and there is limited or no access to clean supplies. The Corrections Canada prison tattoo program had a very specific goal: "to limit the spread of infectious diseases by providing sanitary tattooing services" to inmates in Canadian prisons. The program had the potential to decrease the spread of hepatitis and HIV within the prisons, but was only given a single year to prove its worth in six pilot locations. While I am unable to say whether the program would have reduced infectious disease over a greater length of time, it seems like a plausible outcome. And when comparing a single $600,000 program with the costs of treating HIV or hepatitis-positive inmates (nearly $30,000 per inmate per year), the program looks like a promising means of cutting medical costs and reducing infection rates within the prison system.

Unfortunately, this program was axed because the government refuses to "spend taxpayers' money on providing tattoos for convicted criminals." But body art is not the goal of the program. The goal is safety and health. Instead the government will support "programs that educate inmates on the health risks of using dirty needles." Knowing may be half the battle, but the availability of sterile, single-use tattoo and piercing supplies is key to success. The Canadian inmates will continue to get tattoos and piercings. In a setting where one in four people has hepatitis C, infection is inevitable.

Programs that promote safe tattoos and piercings would be beneficial to any high-risk population, inside or outside of a razor-wire fence. There are many harm-reduction programs across North America, especially in urban areas, set up to provide intravenous drug users with sterile needles. These programs generally exist in conjunction with programs to educate and rehabilitate drug users. Critics often accuse harm-reduction programs of encouraging drug use, but evaluation of programs does not support this claim. The availability of clean needles reduces the spread of disease, drug-related deaths, and criminal activity.

Why aren't there any similar body modification harm-reduction programs? Such a program could provide education and supplies to high-risk populations. A safe tattoo/piercing program, set in a community space, would provide a comfortable atmosphere for classes, a supply exchange, and even referrals for infectious disease treatment or other medical services. The means and goals would be similar to other harm-reduction ventures, and the outcomes could be similar -- the program would not exist to encourage body modification, but to make safe body modification accessible in areas where it is rare. Unfortunately, I expect that funding would be hard to find and the program could end up on the chopping block, just like the Corrections Canada program. Perhaps the first step is the education of the lawmakers that make decisions about beneficial community programs like these.


Piercer/body mod practitioner/tattoo artist at The Edge Tattoo in Rhode Island.

IAM Page: goddam

I first heard of this program a little under a year ago. I thought that Canada had finally figured out a way to reduce the HIV/HEP C contamination issue taking place in prisons and figured it would be a matter of time until other provinces, and countries followed suit. With Canada's health care program already stressed one would figure a savings of possibly millions of dollars a year if you're only counting taking care of those in the prison system infected might give some incentive to do something to mitigate this growing issue.

If it's not obvious, I feel the program should definitely not have been axed. If many states and provinces provide free needle exchange for people doing illegal intravenous drugs to cut down on HEP C and HIV transmission why shouldn't we support this program that essentially does the same? Tattooing is legal in most states and provinces, it's not physically detrimental to one's health if done under sanitary conditions, there is no real scientific proof to suggest tattooing is on any level habit forming or "addictive" so where's the disconnect?

In simpler terms, why are we encouraging if not enabling negative unproductive dangerous illegal behavior that has a string of downward spirals attached to not only the participant, but their family, society and so on, by providing encouragement in the form of clean needles so people can have one less excuse to seek treatment and or rehabilitation but condemning those who only mean to seek a way of expressing themselves (albeit possibly not always in the most intelligent of ways but that is an issue that could be fixed with proper supervision e.g. Just as some states have set forth limitations for licensed tattoo artists about gang related tattoos and the like could also be implemented in a prison, that is after all full of people paid to -- gasp! -- supervise these people! Where as tattoo parlors are very rarely visited by health board officials police or the like)

I do believe that this program should exist on some level. If tattooing in prisons can't be all together stopped this program needs to exist, the contrary is saying we don't mind spending the millions later, to save thousands now. Even if the program had to be reformed to make it possible to survive, it would be worth it. I don't know the finer points of the program, or the exact reasons for its cancellation, but realistically the cost of many sterile, pre-made needles does not typically exceed one dollar a piece. Let's say you use 4 needles (this is most likely more than the average tattoo being done will require); The 4 dollars and any cost incurred for equipment/training or for appropriate supervision and what not is, I'm sure, far less than the cost of taking care of one person who contracts hepatitis C or HIV from a contaminated needle, or worse the cost of each additional person infected by that person in their life time and so on whether it's in the prison system or once they've been released into the general public. With the number of people currently infected with HEP C and HIV, both that know and that don't, one would think that everything possible would be done to try to educate and prevent the spread on every level.

I do not however see it necessary to provide programs of this nature for every aspect of body modification for the reason that tattooing in its simplest form is not terribly risky and does not require the same kind of knowledge and education that surgical body modification for example does. Having said that, if at any point surgical modifications become as in demand and as big of an issue in the prison system it should probably be looked into, however I would assume this is unlikely. After all, one could possibly botch their way through basic aspects of cosmetic surgery (granted with varying levels of success) if they were given access to equipment and some level of information; the same is true with surgical body modification however, as I mentioned earlier, I don't see this becoming an issue anywhere near the scale of tattooing in prisons. So the squeaky wheel as they say should get the grease here.

As for other programs on a public level, I feel that anyone who wants to learn about disease transmission prevention, blood born pathogens, cross contamination and the like should have that information available to them absolutely. I believe there should also be a whole lot more information made available to the public about STI/STD and disease screening not to mention actual screening and frequent screening for people in high risk categories whether that be free or charge or just more availability at pay clinics. There has been a lot of progress made in the past twenty years, for example, but considering the numbers aren't going away, apparently we need to do more.