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A Proactive Approach to Reducing MRSA Infection Among Offenders
By Mag Wright, Mental Health Secretary, (SCI) Lancaster OH
Published: 01/25/2010

Hand sanitizer Editor's Note: Mag Wright is the Mental Health Secretary & Dog Program Facilitator at the Southeastern Correctional Institution (SCI), in Lancaster, Ohio

As long as there have been prisons, there have been prison tattoos and the offenders who use whatever means necessary to shoot them. They use confiscated items including pen barrels, radio mechanisms, soot, and toner ink, sometimes resulting in dangerous MRSA or staph infections on fellow inmates.

Southeastern Correctional Institution (SCI), an adult male prison in Lancaster, Ohio, with a population of 1,550 inmates, is certainly no stranger to the dangers of tattooing; but one staff member, seeing an alarming increase in tattoo-related infections at the prison, decided enough was enough and that a little education was in order to try to bring those numbers down.

Toni Basse, the Assistant Health Care Administrator at Southeastern, was busy preparing a sample lesson plan for one of her college courses when she thought it would be a good idea to educate offenders about the dangers of tattooing as they relate to MRSA and staph infections. “I thought it would be great to include the class as part of the orientation process, to educate them when they first get to SCI,” she explained. “And then to force them to take the class if they are found guilty of a tattoo-related rules infraction.”

Toni teamed up with a fellow medical staff member TJ Martin, and together they pulled information and materials from the CDC website. They first spoke to several known “shooters” at the institution, to find out exactly how they did their work and afterwards, enrolled those inmates in the education class as well.

“One guy told me he disinfected his equipment with urine,” Toni recalled. “He thought it was completely fine. I convinced him otherwise.”

The infection education class is mandatory for new arrivals at the institution each week, as well as those found guilty of the tattoo-specific rules infractions. Those inmates also must be blood tested every ninety days for one year—at their expense.

In just six months, the numbers have gone down dramatically—close to a 50% reduction rate.

“They have no idea how dangerous MRSA is,” said Toni, and TJ agreed. “You can see the looks on their faces,” he said. “They go from being indignant and mad that they have to take the class, to being very aware, very scared, very concerned that they could be very sick.” The class is taught using a PowerPoint presentation, complete with actual photos of tattoos with infected areas that are quite graphic.

“At the end of the class, we’ll have inmates showing us spots and bumps on their arms, asking questions,” Toni said. “They realize that these infections are something that could be passed on to their family, once they get out of prison.”

“I am very pleased with our approach toward curtailing infectious diseases,” stated Warden Sheri Duffey. “The education component regarding MRSA and the risks of tattoos gone bad, often causes the offender to rethink his behavior,” Duffey added.

“To go from having the highest numbers among Ohio prisons to being one of the bottom three is proof that what we’re doing is having an effect,” said Toni, “and we’re pretty happy about that.”

Other articles by Mag Wright


  1. CUFFUPRN on 02/07/2010:

    How do I get my hands on a copy of this Power Point presentation? MICHAEL A. VARNUM, RN Department of Justice FCI/FPC Greenville, IL mvarnum@bop.gov 618 664-6200 ext: 4031

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