Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

“Should prisons have government-sanctioned tattoo shops?”

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The question above is the title of this Slate piece, in which Jessica Wapner argues that the answer is yes:

Saving money and protecting guards aren’t the only reasons to embrace government-sanctioned prison tattoo shops. We should also keep in mind how much suffering is in store for inmates who contract HCV. These are persuasive arguments for government-sanctioned prison tattoo shops. Because the disease is silent, up to 75 percent of those with HCV don’t even know they’re infected until it’s too late for treatment. Many people do not respond to the currently available medications, and liver transplants are costly and not always available. Although some patients do spontaneously recover, most don’t, and there is no way to predict who will develop end-stage complications, which include cirrhosis and cancer. …

Still, as a strategy to reduce HCV transmission, safer-tattooing initiatives are not without problems: For instance, a lot of prison-borne tattoos signify gang associations; and during the Canadian pilot program, other inmates reportedly preferred the work of prisoners not employed at the shop. A safe-tattoo program would have to forbid such body art, so some market for DIY tattooing would remain.

Given that American prisons generally don’t even have needle-exchange or methadone programs, which many other countries have used to stave the spread of bloodborne diseases behind bars, I’m a bit skeptical of the likelihood that there might conceivably be legislative or public support for safe-tattoo programs. But Wapner flips the equation, suggesting that maybe legal prison tattooing could serve “as a steppingstone toward public acceptance of prison needle-exchange programs.” Any thoughts, readers?

Written by sara

September 20, 2010 at 7:40 am

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