Erasing the Past to Improve the Future


Oregon Youth Authority’s tattoo removal program helps youth remove the marks of a history they want to leave behind

SALEM – When youth are committed to the care of Oregon Youth Authority (OYA), one stop on the road to rehabilitation for some is the tattoo removal program, where youth can literally erase parts of their past.

Without the program, OYA youth with gang-related tattoos can return to the community and struggle to move on from their old lives.

“When they would go out, it would be difficult to get a job or go to the military (because of their tattoos), so they would just get in trouble again and go back to (OYA) facilities,” said Griselda Solano-Salinas, an OYA multicultural services coordinator who helped start the tattoo removal program.

Not only could they get in trouble with the law, she said, but she’s known of some cases where youth have been shot in their old neighborhoods because they sported tattoos associated with a rival gang.

In the mid-1990s, the Oregon Psychiatric Association (OPA), in partnership with OYA and local law enforcement, took on the cause of combatting what appeared to be a rise in gang activity.

Through a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, the group purchased a laser tattoo removal machine and started the program in 1997 at Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem (the program moved to MacLaren YCF when Hillcrest closed in 2017).

Solano-Salinas helped build the tattoo removal program from nine youth to up to hundreds of applicants at one time.

The program prioritizes visible gang-related, sex trafficking-related, and anti-social tattoos. It’s available to all OYA youth, although Rogue Valley has opted to work with Valley Laser & Aesthetics, a Medford medical provider, at a discounted rate, finishing tattoo removal work on 72 youth in less than four years.

About Author

Lindsay Keefer is the Communications Officer for the Oregon Youth Authority, Oregon’s state juvenile justice agency.

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