Ink Analysis: Statistics Drawn from Florida Prisoner Body Art

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What can you learn from prisoners’ tattoos? The Economist conducted a statistical analysis of the Florida Department of Corrections’ downloadable database of detailed information on 100,000 inmates, including their tattoos. It turns out that three-quarters of the Florida prison population have at least one tattoo; the median inmate has three. The data also confirms how generational criminal tattoos are: 85 percent of prisoners under 35 have tattoos compared with 43 percent for prisoners aged 55 and over. (The rate is 23 percent in the public at large.) The most popular designs and motifs include names, animals, mythical creatures (dragons and unicorns are especially voguish) and Christian symbols such as crosses, rosary beads and scrolls with verses from scripture.

The database shows relatively few inmates with overtly criminal tattoos. For example, 15 percent of white inmates had heart tattoos, while just 3 percent had tattoos relating to white supremacy. Some tattoos reflect remorse: At least 117 inmates have tattoos with variations of the phrase “Mother tried.” At least seven inmates have the words “Your name” tattooed on their penises. Hispanic inmates, often raised in Catholic households, favor Christian imagery: The Virgin Mary is a common subject. Female inmates are more likely to carry tattoos of butterflies, hearts and the reminder that “This too shall pass.” Male inmates are more likely to have tattoos of images directly relating to incarceration, such as prison bars and guard towers.

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