Tattoo removal: The view from a former warden of the Supermax Federal Prison

 

Bob Hood

Bob Hood, former warden of the Supermax Federal Prison.

It’s a mystery to us why there aren’t more pre-release tattoo removal programs. And we’re not the only ones to question this lack of a service that could do so much to help those getting out of prison start a new life.

In a recent interview we found that Bob Hood feels the same way. With 34 years of experience in the corrections field, Hood has played a variety of roles, including being warden of the “Supermax”Federal Prison in Colorado. Supermax is the most secure federal penitentiary in the nation and the place where Al Qaeda terrorists, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, the Unabomber, Cartel leaders and organized crime figures are locked up.

Here’s what Hood had to say (edited for brevity):

From your own experience, how do prisoners view tattoos?

To begin with, about 75% of inmates overall have tattoos. Inside the facility it’s almost like their resume or business card. They’ll either connect with a gang or just have some razor wire around their neck. They make their own tattoos within the prison so they can assimilate, but as they get closer to a pre-release class where they’re looking for a job they think, “Why that was pretty stupid.”

Besides being able to get a job when they get out, why should inmates consider getting their tattoos removed?

Even those in for life can benefit from tattoo removal. You can do (tattoo removal on) a person doing a multi-life sentence who may never see daylight. Maybe the guy looking in the mirror will no longer see the tear drop or “love and hate” on his knuckles. He may never get out but would like to demonstrate that he’s changing. Tattoo removal should be a choice, and it shouldn’t just be for the guys going out the door.

How can you convince them not to get prison tattoos in the first place?

Be proactive and take photos of people and computerize tattoos on them. Then say to the inmate who just came into the prison, “You want to blend in? You want to be tough? Let’s show you what it looks like. You might think about it. You may not want to get the tattoos. What are the good things you want to retain, and one of them would be a visible-tattoo-free body.”

You refer to tattoo removal as the missing piece of the reentry puzzle. Is anything being done to bring that piece into play?

People are realizing you can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Even the old school is saying, “Hey, we have to do something different.” Tattoo removal was never part of the puzzle. The correction system says you get the guy through assessment and tell them they have to get their GED, do the classes, study alternatives to violence. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have a harder time if you have the ugliness of socially unacceptable tattoos. People are taking all the courses, but if they go into a normal work environment and have KKK on their forehead, it will stop them from getting a job.

How can correctional facilities be encouraged to establish pre-release tattoo-removal programs?

All local, state, and federal correctional institutions have Admission & Orientation (A&O) programs for new inmates (names for the program may vary). Prior to release, institutions have some form of pre-release programming. Correctional administrators should be encouraged to include information about tattoo removal programs in existing A&O and pre-release curriculum. Specific action steps for administrators may include:

  • Providing a sample lesson plan on the topic of tattoo removal.
  • Offer relevant statistical information and testimonies.
  • Identify current pre-release programs as models.
  • Determine what companies offer tattoo removal in their geographic area.
  • Offer names of national companies (like Quanta) that are supporting the movement to remove visible tattoos.
  • Suggest what location within their agency to start a pilot program (medical institution, release center, etc.).
  • Provide a cost analysis (average cost of individual tattoo removal compared to other release programs).
  • Describe the benefits of removing visible tattoos for offenders not scheduled to release soon (as part of their gang management/behavior control strategy).
  • Don’t just push pre-release value of tattoo removal. Removing tattoos from long-term offenders is just as valuable for their transformation within the prison environment.
In practical terms, how would you carry out tattoo removal procedures?

No warden says their top concern is tattoo removal, because it’s so simplistic, but they could have a commitment from dermatologists in the area. Tell them, “You have the equipment, could you commit to three people per year that you would do tattoo removal procedures for free? It would be good p.r. for the doctor.

Also, if it were my prison, I’d make it part of the system. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has an Inmate Financial Responsibility Program. Some of it goes home, some of it goes for Twinkies and some of it should go to taking off those tattoos. From the money that inmates get by working on various vocational programs or whatever, they might put down 10% towards the cost of getting their tattoos off, and the government would pay the rest.

As far as the prisons are concerned, we have to show the value. If it costs X for tattoo removal, it will cost 50X to pay for those who come back to prison.

But something no one can debate is when you take before-and-after photos of an inmate with tattoos, and ask, “Do you think it’s better that this person has tattoos on their face and arms?” You can’t debate it. It’s the least expensive program of all, and it’s one that we just have not tried.

 

National Reentry Week hosts events around the nation

reentry

Attorney General Loretta Lynch

For those of you who don’t already know it, this week – April 24-30 – is the first ever National Reentry Week.

The designation was established by the U.S. Department of Justice, which says that the week is part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to make the U.S. criminal justice system fairer, more efficient and more effective at reducing recidivism.

“Too often, justice-involved individuals who have paid their debt to society confront daunting obstacles to good jobs, decent housing, adequate health care, quality education, and even the right to vote,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

“National Reentry Week highlights the many ways that the Department of Justice – and the entire Obama Administration – is working to tear down the barriers that stand between returning citizens and a meaningful second chance – leading to brighter futures, stronger communities, and a morej just and equal nation for all.”

Lynch, along with U.S. Department. of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, will travel to Philadelphia on Monday, April 25, to hold events with public housing advocates, legal services providers and community leaders. Later in the week she will visit a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Talladega, Ala., to highlight reentry programs in prison.

Reentry events in all 50 states and elsewhere

Other events are taking place in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices alone are hosting more than 200 events, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons more than 370 events.

Among the events organized by the White House and the Department of Justice:

  • On Monday, April 25, the White House will hold an event with the Brennan Center on the costs of incarceration.
  • On Monday, April 25, Director Lisa Foster of the Office for Access Justice will hold a joint event in Los Angeles with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to announce new efforts to improve outcomes for justice-involved youth. She will also attend a Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) Program Graduation Ceremony in Los Angeles.
  • On Tuesday, April 26, Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason of the Office of Justice Programs will attend a girls mentoring event at a local detention facility. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
  • On Tuesday, April 26, Second Chance Fellow Daryl Atkinson of the Office of Justice Programs will deliver remarks at a reentry simulation in Birmingham sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama.
  • On Wednesday, April 27, the White House will host the Fair Chance Opportunities Champions of Change event in South Court Auditorium. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch will deliver remarks and Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates will moderate a panel at the event.
  • On Thursday, April 28, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division will deliver remarks at a reentry event at Mickey Leland Transitional Housing Facility, sponsored by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
  • On Friday, April 29, Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women will visit a federal women’s prison in West Virginia.
  • On Friday, April 29, the United States Department of Labor will host a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Federal Bonding Program. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates will deliver remarks at the event.