Tattooing in Prison

The art of tattooing in prison has existed for centuries and has become more sophisticated over time. Techniques for turning a Walkman and some common items into a tattoo gun and using unlikely items like melted Styrofoam for an ink base. Simple stick and poke tattoos are also an easy DIY option when limited materials are available. Although obviously not allowed in United States prisons and despite significant challenges and sanitation issues, inmates have always found a way to get inked.

While HIV transmission is a major fear, the most likely pathogens to be passed to those being tattooed may actually be Hepatitis viruses. There has been a discussion of sanctioning tattooing in prisons in order to cut down on the rates of viral transmission via unsterile needles and equipment, but the idea has unsurprisingly met resistance. Canada, where nearly half of all inmates will receive a tattoo while incarcerated, actually briefly experimented with the concept, and while Hepatitis transmission dropped, the program was ended after only a year due to lack of support.

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