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Free tattoo removals for gang members putting the past behind them

Published fredag 18 december 2015 kl 14.54
"We think they have serious reasons to receive our help"
(2:10 min)
Sven Sahlin, clinical manager at the plastic surgery unit at Karolinska Hospital. Photo:  Karin Wettre/Sveriges radio
Sven Sahlin, clinical manager at the plastic surgery unit at Karolinska Hospital. Photo: Karin Wettre/Sveriges radio

Gang members in Sweden who want to leave their criminal life for a fresh start are being offered free help in removing visible gang tattoos.

Stockholm County Council is offering to help ex-gang members who want to fit into society and have no visible link to their criminal past.

"Normally, we don't take away tattoos for cosmetic reasons. One should deal with that oneself. But sometimes we can break from the rules. The county council views this as a worthwhile expense," says Sven Sahlin, Director of the clinic for reconstructive plastic surgery at the Karolinska Hospital in Solna.

"In some extreme cases, we have had patients who have had tattoos on their faces that highlights their criminal identity, which makes it difficult for them to get back into society due to their tattoos which show they have a criminal background.  Then we think they have had serious reasons for us to help."

Inspector Mikael Hiljegren, coordinator for gang defectors in Region Stockholm, knows that taking away the tattoos means a lot to those who want to leave the criminal life. 

"Tattoos sitting very clearly on the face, specific tattoos, on fingers, hands, there is a point in removing them . if you really want to stop all crime and land a job, it's not so fun to come to an interview with an inappropriate tattoo in the middle of the face. I can understand the desire to get rid of them," Mikael Hiljegren tells Swedish Radio News.

The tattoos are removed in clinics in the city. The cost for the council to remove a tattoo is between SEK 15 - 20 000. Clinic manager Sven Sahlin at Karolinska thinks that there are strong reasons for the council to help.

"In these occasional, rare cases, we make an assessment that we can make a great contribution to this person to get out of his previous criminal life," says Sven Sahlin.


Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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