Kaitlyn Harger researches how visible tattoos affect recidivism

Kaitlyn Harger, PhD candidate, University of West Virginia

It’s certainly no secret that visible tattoos can be an obstacle to success, whether in a job search or in one’s personal life. But they can also land ex-offenders back in prison faster than those who don’t have them.

And we know this thanks to work done by Kaitlyn Harger, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of West Virginia, whose research focuses on the general economics of crime and recidivism. But among her most interesting findings so far is what’s she’s learned about the effects of visible tattoos.

In a paper entitled “Bad Ink: Visible Tattoos and Recidivism,” Harger examines whether visible tattoos affect recidivism rates. Of course, she admits in the intro, that it may not be the tattoos themselves, but the lack of ability of those who sport them to obtain employment, one of the best ways to keep people from returning to prison.

She used data from the Florida Department of Corrections Offender Based Information System to compare the amount of time that those displaying visible tattoos were able to remain out of prison with the amount of time for those having no tattoos or tattoos that could be covered by clothing.

The data was for all inmates released from Florida facilities during 2008, 2009 and 2010 – a total of 97,156 people, with 88% of the sample male, 50% white, 46% black and 3.6% Hispanic. It included not just such demographic data as gender, race and age, and a list of offenses, but also information on the type and body location of all of the inmates’ tattoos.

While 22% of Harger’s sample population had visible tattoos on their head, face, neck or hands, 63% had them on any of those places plus their arms or legs. Arm and leg tattoos would be visible if the person was wearing a T-shirt or shorts, which might be the case in certain jobs, including construction worker or a lifeguard.

What she found was that the expected length of time between release and reincarceration for inmates with tattoos in general was 32.4% less than those without tattoos. And the expected length of time between release and reincarceration for those with tattoos on the head, face back or hands was 27.4% less than those with tattoos in other places.

Of course, as she mentions, this could be due behavioral factors. For example the fact that someone chose to get a certain type of visible tattoo might be one of the ways they indicate a commitment to a criminal lifestyle.

Regardless of the reason, visible tattoos are costing states and the Federal government a tremendous amount of money. In the case of Florida, ex-offenders with visible tattoos return to prison 419 days earlier than those without. At $47.50, the average daily price of housing an inmate, it would cost an additional $19,903 per year per inmate with a visible tattoo or a total of about $418 million over the three-year time period she studied.

To read the entire research paper, click on the link below:

goo.gl/637Gn8

 

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