Removing tattoos during incarceration is an excellent way to help those who have gang-related or anti-social tattoos begin to leave their past lives behind. Considering the effectiveness of these programs, it’s surprising that there are not more of them around, especially for youth.
Perhaps other youth correctional facilities will be inspired by the success of the Oregon Youth Authority’s tattoo removal program. Until October, the program, which has operated at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem for about 15 years, had only a single volunteer doctor – a dermatologist named Carolyn Hale – who performs the tattoo removal procedures on a weekly basis.
Hale had been volunteering her services for years, and she and the doctor who founded the program even paid for a replacement laser device when the original one wore out. She had long hoped to expand her efforts, and her wish has finally come true.
An article in the Statesman Journal, Salem’s local newspaper, last year that included an interview with Dr. Hale brought wide publicity for the program. Last fall, soon after it was published, four volunteer doctors – three retired orthopedics surgeons and a retired family physician – a nurse and a physician assistant, came on board to volunteer. And it happened none too soon.
“We have so many youth on the waiting list. The additional support will help us serve more youth so they don’t have to wait so long for treatment,” says Griselda Solano Salinas, multicultural coordinator/tattoo removal program coordinator, who works for the Oregon Youth Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations and organizes the program at the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility.
All procedures will continue to take place at Hillcrest because it’s too difficult and complicated to move the tattoo removal laser device. Boys are brought from four facilities and girls from one. The goal, according to Solano Salinas, is to increase how often the tattoo removal clinic is offered to at least three times per month and then add more sessions as needed.
“We want to help and motivate our youth to achieve their goals by reducing pressures to return to gang or anti-social activities. Removal of these tattoos has an immediate impact on their acceptance by potential employers and society,” she says.
“During the past 18 years I have observed the benefits of tattoo removal. I see youth who participated in our program go on to enroll in school, apply for jobs, enlist in the military, and become productive, crime-free citizens.”
$10-$20 can make a difference and provide funding to send job search books to prison and jail libraries and expand our tattoo removal outreach.