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The Australian Capital Territory Government in Australia wants to introduce a tattooing service for prisoners at the territory’s jail.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says the use of makeshift, contraband tattoo guns and needles by prisoners could be a greater infection risk at the jail than intravenous drug use.

Ms Gallagher said she believed a safe, professional tattooing service could be more effective in stopping the spread of blood-borne disease at the Alexander Maconochie Centre than the stalled needle-and-syringe program.

Determined opposition by the prison’s guards and their union, the CPSU, has blocked a needle exchange system at the jail, but Ms Gallagher said yesterday she had not given up on efforts to control blood-borne diseases at the AMC.

The union cautiously welcomed the safe tattooing plan yesterday and suggested it could be extended to provide a safe body-piercing service.

Ms Gallagher said that a safe, professional tattoo service would be part of the solution but she also flagged moves to make prison staff more accountable in the control of blood-borne viruses among inmates.

The Government cites reports by prisons expert Keith Hamburger, virology research centre the Burnett Institute and former health minister Michael Moore that all recommended a safe tattooing facility to control the spread of HIV and hepatitis.

The Burnett report found that 40per cent of the prison’s tattooed inmates had been given some of their tattoos by fellow inmates while behind bars.

Ms Gallagher, who is also Health Minister, told The Canberra Times that it was time to do someting about it.

”We know there are tattoo guns, some have been confiscated,” she said. ”We know that the dirty needles often used for tattoos transmit blood-borne viruses and we know that the rates of those viruses are very high in the jail.

”It’s not the only answer but it could be part of the solution.”

There were issues to be managed, Ms Gallagher said, such as who would operate the service, whether it would be free and the problem of prisoners using tattoos to identify themselves as gang members.

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