How tattoo removal can change the face of corrections
Removing visible antisocial or gang-related tattoos improve an offender’s chance for staying out of prison and obtaining employment
By Robert Hood
Prison systems actively assist and support incarcerated persons who desire to return to society equipped to live crime-free lives. However, correctional professionals continue to focus on the barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals experience.
According to the Department of Justice, more than 650,000 individuals return to neighborhoods across America after serving time in federal and state prisons each year. Studies show that approximately two-thirds of those people will likely be rearrested within three years of release; another 11.4 million will cycle through local jails.
Nearly one in three adult Americans has had an encounter with the criminal justice system – mostly for relatively minor, non-violent offenses. Assisting ex-prisoners in finding and keeping employment is a key element of successful re-entry to our communities.
Obstacles to successful re-entry
Assisting all released offenders to find meaningful work, housing, drug abuse and addiction treatment and support is an overwhelming task for the criminal justice system. An estimated 6.7 million individuals are supervised by adult correctional systems in the United States. Offenders supervised in the community on either probation (3.8 million) or parole (800,000) continue to find obstacles for employment.
Institutional, community and supervised release programs provide a structured environment, counseling, job placement and other valuable services that help inmates gradually rebuild their ties to the community.
Many prisoners have limited education and work experience, which makes it difficult for them to secure employment after they are released. Employers are less likely to accept an application from a former prisoner and less likely to make a job offer to a former prisoner.
The rate of employment before incarceration is often low because of low education attainment, limited job skills, substance abuse and medical and mental health problems. According to a 2003 research publication on barriers facing ex-offenders, about 70 percent of offenders and ex-offenders are high school dropouts.
One potential explanation for high recidivism rates is limited labor market opportunities for ex-offenders. Significant and ongoing economic and societal obstacles often prevent them from a successful re-entry into their community. While there are many programs designed to remove these obstacles, correctional professionals continue to look for the missing piece of the re-entry puzzle.
Incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars every year. There are additional, significant costs from the economic losses suffered by victims of crime. Those total loses might exceed $200 billion. We need to find cost-effective, innovative and sustainable solutions to reduce recidivism and improve employment issues in corrections. One simple solution is highly visible and easy to replicate.
Removing visible tattoos, especially those that are antisocial or related to gangs, improve an offender’s chance for staying out of prison and obtaining employment. Tattoo removal demonstrates an investment in change for individuals wanting to re-enter society.
Tattoos impact offender employment opportunities and recidivism:
- 75 percent of re-incarcerated inmates have tattoos.
- Inmates with tattoos are 42 percent more likely to be re-incarcerated for committing a violent crime.
- Offenders with tattoos last just 2.4 years outside of prison before re-incarceration.
- 70 percent of those released from prison are tattooed.
- 61 percent of human resource managers believe visible tattoos damage employment opportunities.
While incarcerated, prisoners use makeshift tools to create tattoos. Tattoos represent a place in the prison social order, gang affiliation and other segments of the correctional environment. Tattoos may brand inmates while in prison, but if removed can provide a chance to have a new life on the outside.
There is a high interest in tattoo removal programs for inmates and ex-offenders across the country. More than 200 tattoo removal programs exist and have ongoing support from those interested in reducing our prison population. Inmates willing to make a positive change are having visible tattoos removed in preparation for their return home.
For example, Quanta Aesthetic Lasers has a program called QuantaCares which provides a cost-effective, innovative and sustainable tattoo removal solution.
National approach to re-entry, employment
Re-entry programs exist at the federal level, as well as in 50 states, 3,142 counties and 19,354 cities. There is limited consistency within our criminal justice system for addressing obstacles to offender employment and overall re-entry.
Successful re-entry programs should include these four things:
- Individual re-entry plans for each offender.
- Education, employment training, life skills, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and other programs to maximize the chance of success upon release.
- Transitional programs such as halfway houses and supervised release programs should ensure individualized continuity of care for offenders.
- Comprehensive re-entry resource materials should be available for all offenders.
Although a national re-entry initiative is unlikely in the near future, laser technology is helping change the face of corrections. Tattoo removal is being recognized as a missing piece of the re-entry puzzle. Correctional professionals now realize that all the re-entry programing in the world will have limited impact on an offender with visible tattoos.
Editor’s note: Robert Hood serves as the chairman of Quanta Aesthetic Laser’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board.