Tattoo Grants

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Federal, local and private grants to remove unwanted tattoos has been the source of ongoing debate and public scrutiny. Some believe that choosing to get a tattoo is a private decision, and the bearer must cover the consequences and costs. However, these free services aren't available to any individual who has a dancing frog or fairy princess tattoo that now seems embarrassing and childish. Instead, it’s pegged specifically to former gang members who want to remove tattoos that link them to a life of crime.

Programs Receiving Federal and Local Funding

Tattoos that are not gang-related do not qualify for free removal.
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Several tattoo removal programs receive federal funding through the Justice Department's Appropriations Bill. Providence Holy Cross Foundation in Mission Hills, California, offers federally funded laser tattoo removal to former gang members in the San Fernando or Santa Clarita Valleys. Others, like Skindeep Tattoo Removal in Fairfax County, Virginia, use money exclusively from local sources. The organization provides low-cost or free tattoo removal through grants and donations from the county Department of Family Services, Community Services Board, and the Health Department and the Fairfax Medical Society.

Privately Funded Tattoo-Removal Programs

Some groups, like the Agape Light Tattoo Removal Program in Los Angeles, are nonprofits that are funded primarily through private donations. The program gives tattoo removal services to former gang members through in-kind donations from the Bakersfield Fire Department and the San Joaquim Adventist Hospital. Most tattoo removal programs, like Providence Holy Cross and Skin Deep, depend on the free services of volunteer medical practitioners who donate their time to tattoo removal.

Cost to Participants

Most tattoo removal programs aren’t completely free, though participants pay a small fraction of a procedure that might otherwise cost over $1,000. Those who benefit are also required to cease involvement in gangs and undergo counseling. The Clean Slate Tattoo Removal Program in San Jose, California, requires all who participate to have a job, attend school and complete 40 hours of community service, in addition to attending regular support group meetings for a year. Salt Lake County’s tattoo-removal program in Utah also requires all participants to remain arrest-free and be free from jail or probation for a year prior to applying.

Debate Over Tattoo Removal Programs

Public funding for tattoo removal has caused contentious debates.
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Anti-tax groups have strongly opposed the use of taxpayer money for tattoo removal. The government watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste has labeled these programs frivolous pork barrel spending. But advocates say the programs help reduce recidivism for former gang members. Lois Capps, U.S. Representative for California's 23rd congressional district in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, argues that tattoo removal serves a public good by enabling gang members to put the shame of their former crimes behind them and find jobs.

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About the Author

Rachel Breitman's articles about politics, law and entertainment have appeared in "American Lawyer," "USA Today" and Reuters. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Swarthmore College. She is also a middle school English teacher and new mom.

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