Tattoos have been a part of prison culture for some time. Prison tattoos are most often obtained to identify allegiance to a particular gang. Tattoos (called Tats or Ink) can also identify skills, specialties, or convictions. Tattooing is usually forbidden in the prison system, making it a daring task, as well as making it a potentially dangerous one.
Dangers of Prison Tattooing
The major danger of prison tattooing is blood-born pathogen (BBP) transmission. Typical methods for tattooing include use of common ball-point pen ink and crude make-shift needles. Sterilization is not performed between uses. Although most incarcerated persons fear HIV transmission, they should also be concerned about contracting Hepatitis B and C during this process. Skin infection is also a risk with the use of make-shift tattoo equipment and dirty conditions.
Other complications from prison tattooing are allergic reactions to the pigment, aggravation of existing skin diseases, and keloid scarring. You may see these conditions during a sick call visit.
Interestingly, Minnesota DOC is attempting to bring tattooing into its facilities as an apprentice skill program. Thus, tattooing would be regulated within the system so good technique and sterilized equipment would be used, which in turn would decrease BBP transmission and infection. In addition, the tattooing skills learned through the apprentice program would be the foundation for potential job opportunities in the community.
Consider adding disease transmission information about prison tattooing during the intake process, especially if your facility has a known problem with behind the walls tattooing. Let incoming persons know about the dangers of engaging in tattooing during their stay at the facility. Other educational opportunities may come during sick call or cell-side rounds. Add tattoo information to regular infection control education and information materials.
Nursing Care Dilemma
As a correctional nurse at a correctional facility, you may find yourself in the middle of an ethical dilemma if you are asked to assess a tattoo for age. Correctional nurses have been asked to determine if a tattoo is recent (and therefore ‘illegal’), which places the nurse in a position to be part of a punitive action. Since correctional nurses must maintain a therapeutic relationship with their patients, an alternative method is needed at the facility for assessing and staging tattoos.
How are prison tattoos handled in your workplace? Share your story in the comment section for this post.