Government considers reviving tattoo removal scheme for prisoners

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The Government is considering reviving a tattoo removal programme for prisoners inked with facial, neck and arm tattoos.

The scheme was dumped in 2006 after a public outcry when taxpayers forked out $4500 for a violent white supremacist to have his “Mongrel Mob Forever” tattoo lasered off.

But menacing body art – like swastikas or gang symbols – is hurting prisoners’ prospect of finding a job and hampering their fresh start.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has asked the ministry to look at resurrecting it.

The plans are in the very early stages – and it’s not yet clear if prisoners, or the taxpayer will pay. Each tattoo costs between $300-$2000 to erase and many prisoners have multiple etchings.

Corrections staff are also drawing up plans to punish inmates who ink each other – or have a tattoo behind bars.

Former white supremacist Carl Drewett, who had the word “skinhead” tattooed across his forehead after getting drunk in prison, says his life improved “tenfold” after it was removed.

“I didn’t get judged. I didn’t get looked at in fear. I could go out with my family, and people weren’t looking the other way.”

He also found work.

Drewett is a proponent of bringing back the tattoo removal into prisons, but he thought it should be limited to face, neck and hands.

“Everything else you can cover up, and is your issue to deal with.”

Prison chief custodial officer Neil Beales says some visible tattoos make it difficult to reintegrate into the community, get a job and put criminal associations in the past.

“It kind of beggars belief really the rather insane things people will tattoo across their forehead or cheeks or around their necks. There have even been some situations where I have seen prisoners who have tattooed themselves in prison by use of mirror and then they get the words back to front on their forehead.

“It’s really difficult when we are trying to integrate a prisoner into the workplace … It may be a company that is quite rightly conscious of their brand, and may have an issue with someone with swastikas or bull dog over their face.”

Prisoners can apply for a Work and Income grant for laser treatment, which is capped at $1500 per year.

Beales says Corrections staff are working on payment options – and whether prisoners would contribute to some, or all, of the costs of removal. “We all recognise that this can be quite an emotive issue, and there is also some self-responsibility there … my personal view is that if someone is serious about tattoo removal to further their opportunities in an offence-free lifestyle, I would expecting that a large part of that funding would come from themselves, their prison wages, their future wages.”

Beales says inking behind bars is a health risk, as inmates use anything with a motor – like DVD or CD players – to fashion a gun, and even use dust or ashes in place of ink.

Corrections are suggesting new provisions to be added to the proposed Corrections Amendment Bill would make it a disciplinary offence for someone to tattoo a fellow prisoner, to consent to receive a tattoo, or to tattoo themselves.

Davis provided a written statement that says Corrections will look at a variety of options, and work with other agencies and possibly partner with charity or not for profit groups.

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