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INK-nitiative: Giving Ex-Convicts a Fresh Start with Free Tattoo Removal

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Published: 04.30.2021
Updated: 09.23.2023
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Marcus Smurda, DPT

One of the main tenets of the INK-nitiative is to empower those who have been previously incarcerated to live their best lives. In the U.S., we have an extremely high rate of recidivism, meaning the rate at which former inmates return to prison. Reentry programs aim to help former inmates reach the goal of desistance or permanent abstinence from offending. Because Removery understands the significant role that tattoo removal can play in achieving desistance, we are leveraging our tools and expertise to support ex-convicts in staying out of prison permanently through our INK-nitiative program. Let’s take a closer look at the problem of recidivism in the U.S., the role of prison reentry programs, and how tattoo removal can improve people’s chances of success after release from prison.

The high recidivism rate in the U.S.

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the world—almost 44% of people released from prison return within a year, reports the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). In 2005, the NIJ reports, “An estimated 68% of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years.”

Let’s take a look at which U.S. states have the highest and lowest recidivism rates, according to data from the World Population Review.

States with the highest recidivism rates:

  1. Delaware: 64%
  2. Alaska: 63%
  3. Arkansas: 57%

The latest data shows that Delaware’s recidivism has risen above Alaska’s, which previously held the dubious distinction of the state with the highest recidivism rate.

States with the lowest recidivism rates:

  1. Texas: 21%
  2. Virginia: 23%
  3. South Carolina: 23%

Virginia and South Carolina are tied for the second-lowest position, while Texas takes the lead on low recidivism at 21%.

Reasons for high recidivism

What contributes to this high rate of recidivism in a country with 25% of the world’s prisoners? And why do certain states have such high recidivism rates, while others’ are comparatively low?

A variety of factors increase recidivism rates, including all of the following:

  • A person’s social environment and community
  • Their circumstances before incarceration
  • Whether they have stable housing or not
  • Addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Ability to adjust back into everyday life

Many of these individuals have trouble reconnecting with family and finding a job to support themselves after returning to civilian life. The rate of unemployment among previously incarcerated people reaches 27%. Even if they do find a job, their prospects are typically limited. Others face housing insecurity or homelessness. Many also face barriers to education that could expand their career options. An individual’s neighborhood also has a strong influence on the likelihood of recidivism; when rates of crime, poverty, and policing are high, recidivism is more likely to occur.

The importance of well-designed prison reentry programs

Why do some states have far lower recidivism rates than others? They’ve implemented multifaceted reintegration programs that are resulting in better outcomes. Providing secure housing and employment opportunities as well as social support has a dramatic effect on people’s ability to successfully reintegrate into society after prison.

Numerous researchers have found that employment has a dramatically positive effect on recidivism. Thus, successful reentry programs for parolees and former inmates focus on making individuals more employable as well as imparting vital life skills.

South Carolina offers full-spectrum reentry services in which former inmates go through workforce development training in addition to gaining valuable soft skills, for instance. They learn how to manage their emotions, conduct themselves at a job interview, and talk about their incarceration. Virginia provides customized programming based on an individual’s needs, including access to treatment, writes CBS19. It also offers pre-release services, including mentoring, tutoring, budgeting, and job readiness.

How do I apply for the INK-nitiative program?

The INK-nitiative program serves people with tattoos from a challenging time in their past that are holding them back from making a fresh start. Many have tattoos in prominent locations like the face, neck, and hands. If you or someone you know fit this description, learn more about the INK-nitiative program.

Learn about the Ink-nitiative

The Effect of Visible Tattoos on Recidivism

Visible tattoos not only play a role in a former inmate’s ability to get a job; they also increase the likelihood that a person will actually return to prison, asserts economics researcher Kaitlyn Harger. In her study titled ‘Bad Ink: Visible Tattoos and Recidivism’, she explains how appearance has a significant effect on a person’s ability to get a job, and the ability to maintain a stable income plays a key role in staying out of prison.

“If employers are aware that tattoos are used to signal criminal experience, or at the very least non-compliance to social norms, then while interviewing potential employees from a pool of ex-offenders, non-tattooed or non-visible tattooed ex-offenders may seem more criminally reformed than ex-offenders with tattoos that can be seen during an interview,” Harger explains.

In fact, visible tattoos can have such a significant effect on employability for ex-convicts that some take a course on how to hide tattoos as part of their reintegration program, Harger asserts.

Location of the tattoo plays a significant role. “Inmates with tattoos located on their face, head, neck, or hands, return to incarceration faster than inmates with tattoos in other visible locations,” writes Harger. Tattoos in certain prominent locations signify lack of compliance with social norms—or even criminal experience—while other types of tattoos are becoming more common in the mainstream. And of course, prominent tattoos like those on the head and hands are difficult, if not impossible, to hide.

Is it easy to remove prison or jailhouse tattoos?

Prison tattoos are usually easier to remove than professionally done body art. Why? The compounds used in jailhouse tattoo ink are not the same as those used in professional tattoos. Most prison tattoo ink is made up of soot, which has a larger particle composition, allowing the laser to target and break down the tattoo more easily. Thus, if someone undergoes laser removal for a prison tattoo, it may require fewer sessions than it would take to remove a professionally done tattoo, which often takes around 8 sessions.

Over $130,000 in tattoo removal services provided in under 10 months

Removery treats tattoos on the hands, neck, and face of those who are reentering civilian life after leaving prison. We are dedicated to continually helping those reentering and are actively building partnerships with local criminal justice departments to provide free tattoo removal pre-entry. Removing prison tattoos before reentry gives people the best chance possible at a fresh start.

Know anyone undergoing reentry who needs free tattoo removal on the hands, neck, or face? Refer them to the INK-nitiative!

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