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Tattoo Removal Program Offers Inmates a Clean Slate

Supporting Inmate Accountability

Inmates in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department may participate in its Tattoo Removal Service, a joint program of the Inmate Services Bureau's Education Based Incarceration (EBI) unit, the Medical Services Bureau, and Homeboy Industries. Once considered permanent, tattoos are now removable through laser treatments. The highly successful Tattoo Removal Service uses that advanced technology, and benefits inmates who commit to bettering themselves while in custody so they can re-enter our communities truly with "a clean slate."

The Tattoo Removal Service incentivizes inmates to engage in structured academic, vocational, life-skills and other learning opportunities offered by EBI, as participation in those courses and activities makes them eligible for tattoo removal treatments.

Matching Inmate Motivations to Community Interests

Inmates regret having gotten tattoos for varying reasons. Some acquired their first tattoo as young as eleven years old, before they could make a wise decision. For others, a tattoo not done by a skilled professional has produced an unsightly or distorted image. And almost all inmates have experienced the negative social stigma attached to any tattoo--compounded when it's offensive or prominently displayed on the face, neck, or hands. An employer's no-tattoo policy, formal or not, limits released inmates' job and advancement opportunities. Finally, many tattoos are gang-related, and inmates may no longer wish to be associated with that lifestyle. No matter the reason, the Tattoo Removal Program gives these inmates a fresh start, and facilitates their re-integration into the community.

Program Process, History and Success

The tattoo removal process uses a medical-grade laser to produce a short pulse of intense light, which passes through the top layers of skin and is selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. This light breaks down the tattoo ink, which is then absorbed by the body, and the tattoo fades. Most patients need three to eight sessions, scheduled every eight weeks, to remove a tattoo completely. Many inmates start by getting one or two tattoos lasered to see the results; not uncommonly, they request treatment of other tattoos because removal is so successful If the removal process takes longer than the inmate's sentence, EBI coordinates with Homeboy Industries to complete the removal at no cost to the released inmate.

The Tattoo Removal Service began in February 2012 as a collaborative partnership between the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Medical Services Bureau, its Inmate Services Bureau, and Homeboy Industries. The service is overseen by trained medical personnel and a custody assistant. The program piloted with 25 volunteer inmates and has expanded greatly, as seen in yearly totals of treated inmates:


Male 276

Female 260

Total 536


Male 274

Female 274

Total 548


Male 206

Female 184

Total 390

(Note: The tattoo clinic closed from early August to December 2014 to repair the laser machine.)

2015 (January 6 to September 15)

Male 421

Female 353

Total 774

A Priceless Benefit at No Private or Public Cost

At outside facilities, removal of a single tattoo ranges in price from $200 to $500 per session. If we recall that full removal may require five to twenty sessions, we see that removing one tattoo might run $10,000. The clinic currently owns four tattoo removal machines; the first cost approximately $100,000 while each subsequent machine cost $65,000. An allocation of $300,000 for the Service also covers additional expenses of overtime and security. Yet the Inmate Welfare Fund fully pays for all expenditures connected to the Tattoo Removal Service, incurring no additional outlay from the Sheriff's Department or the public. Recall also that if the removal process takes longer than an inmate's sentence, EBI and Homeboy Industries cooperate to finish the released inmate's treatment for absolutely no fee.

The Tattoo Removal Service gives inmates a visible change for the better and receives overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants. The tattoo clinic, along with EBI's academic, vocational and life-skills training, stands as one of the Department's most powerful means of helping inmates secure employment, gain community acceptance, and thus reduce their likelihood of recidivating.

Medical Services Bureau

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

450 Bauchet Street, Room E873, Los Angeles, CA 90012


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 Tatoo Remove Process
Tatoo Remove Process

  Tatoo Remove Process
Tatoo Remove Process

  Tatoo Remove Machine
Tatoo Remove Machine

 Tatoo Remove Process
Tatoo Remove Process

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