Canadian prison officials have fleshed out an unprecedented HIV and hep C reduction plan. Starting in March 2005, six inmate-operated tattoo parlors will open across the country—hoping to erase underground inkage, which can spread blood-borne bugs via shared unhygienic equipment. Tattooing on the inside is currently against prison rules in Canada and the U.S., but 45 percent of incarcerated Canadians sport ’em. “In Canada, inmate HIV rates range from one to 10 percent, and HCV rates exceed 50 percent in some prisons,” says Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network’s executive director, Ralf Jürgens. “Safer tattooing projects are a needed, pragmatic public-health measure.”

The movement began in March 2004, at the urging of Canadian ASOs. But even the positive buzz has a sting. “I’m not impressed,” says Canadian Conservative Party rep Randy White, who told the Winnipeg Sun that needle access will spur prison violence and costly lawsuits. Canadian prison employees disagree. “The new program is going to save Canada money in terms of health-care costs,” says Mike Luff of the National Union of Public and General Employees, which represents most Canadian corrections officers. “We use our prison institutions to hold people responsible, not to torture them physically or with HIV.” A prison sentence worth repeating.