A murderer serving a life
sentence should be considered for laser treatment to remove
his gang tattoos to help his reintegration into the
community, says the Parole Board.
But the Department of Corrections says it won't pay - and may
not even approve a prisoner having the procedure while still
Joe Coleman was convicted of murdering George Matehaere, who
preferred to be known as a woman named Georgie, at the
Otahuhu state housing block in 2002.
He bashed the sex worker with a baseball bat, and she died in
hospital six days later.
Coleman, now 49, was a Black Power president at the time and
has gang-related facial tattoos.
At his first Parole Board hearing on January 29, a
psychologist recommended "that consideration might be given
to laser treatment for the removal of tattoos as part of Mr
Coleman's desire to dissociate from his former peers and
The board agreed with the recommendation, but declined parole
for Coleman, saying he was still considered "high risk".
At last month's hearing Coleman said he was "determined to
leave it behind".
Board member Alan Ritchie said: "This is not without
sacrifice for him ... He is not disowning members of [Black
Power] but he knows that he has to create a distance if he is
to succeed in breaking free." As part of that process Coleman
hoped to get his gang tattoos removed.
The Department of Corrections said: "If a prisoner does wish
to get tattoos removed they would need to discuss it with
their case manager and it would be approved on a case-by-case
"It would depend on what risk the prisoner is to the public,
what escorts would be needed to accompany them [to
appointments] and that would be decided by the prison
Criminologist Greg Newbold thought prisoners should pay for
their own tattoo removal. "However in some cases, where a
prisoner has made exceptional progress, where his prospects
... would be significantly enhanced by tattoo removal, I
think it's fitting that the state should consider subsidising
the tattoo removal."
Howard League for Penal Reform spokesman Jarrod Gilbert said:
"Anyone that's wanting to reform from a criminal lifestyle is
someone that should be encouraged.
"A tattoo denoting a particular gang makes integration into
mainstream life nearly impossible."
If a prisoner was released free of gang or offensive tattoos
they were more likely to get a job. If not, the taxpayers
were "condemned" to paying their unemployment benefit or
funding their next stint in jail when they went on to
- Anna Leask of the New Zealand Herald