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WVU doctoral candidate finds link between inmate ink, recidivism

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Studying the link between inmate tattoos and recidivsm has earned Kaitlyn Wolf, a doctoral candidate in economics at West Virginia University, an invitation to the fifth Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, a gathering of Nobel economics laureates from all over the world.

Wolf’s research, Investigating the Relationship Between Visible Tattoos and Recidivism Rates, caught the eye of the event organizers.

Wolf, of Braddock Heights, Maryland, was chosen as one of 460 young economists from more than 80 countries to participate in the global conference, to be held Aug. 19-23 in Lindau, Germany.

Wolf was nominated through WVU’s partnership with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which is funding her trip. NRCCE Director Richard Bajura is the WVU coordinator for Oak Ridge.

Bajura said the Lindau award is extremely competitive with a long list of international nomination institutions such as Harvard, Oxford and the International Monetary Fund nominating candidates.

Wolf’s doctoral research shows a correlation between visible tattoos and recidivism rates.

“Urban economics looks at how crime affects individuals and recidivism,” she explained. “If we’re paying $50 a day to house each prisoner, that adds up if people are going back in if they’ve already been through the system.”

Tattoos can also influence employment trends.

“If two ex-cons interview for a job and one has a face tattoo and the other one doesn’t, then the one without the face tattoo is more likely to be hired,” Wolf said.

For her studies, Wolf has relied on data from Florida, a state that tracks inmate tattoos, including information such as where a tattoo is located and a description of the tattoo.

Her conclusion: Inmates with visible tattoos return to jail faster and more often than inmates without tattoos.