Review of Kaitlyn Hartger’s ‘Bad Ink: Visible Tattoos and Recidivism

by Dwight Steward, Ph.D.

Kaitlyn Hartger’s study ‘A closer look at Bad Ink: Visible Tattoos and Recidivism study by Kaitlyn Hartger’ is intriguing and adds quite a bit to the existing literature on recidivism and the factors related to reincarnation.

Generally, the paper uses data from  Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) Offender Based
Information System (OBIS) to study the recidivism of inmates with and without tattoos.  Hartger goes further with her unique data set, further classifies the potential visibility of the inmates tattoo to a potential employer.


She finds that tattoos do matter.  Having a tattoo cuts the survival rate, i.e. the likelihood of the inmate not returning to incarceration, in half.  In her data, the average inmate survives approximately 13.5 years ‘on the outside’ where as an inmate with tattoos has a survival rate of 5.8 years.  The impact is even larger for inmates with tattoos that may be potentially visible to employers.

The figure above shows the estimated impact of having a tattoo on recidivism rates.

Overall, the paper makes three main contributions.

  • The sample is more extensive than those used in most previous research
  • The use of more robust measures of visibility sheds light on which tattoo locations matter most for employment
  • Her use of a survival methodology allows for the study if both the timing of recidivism and the factors that impact recidivism