Graduation Year

2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

Michael Lynch

Keywords

false consciousness, identity marker, Michel Foucault, police behavior

Abstract

While an estimated one-third of the United States population has a tattoo, tattoos are still seen as a sign of deviance. The appearance of the first tattoos in the United States were relegated to the bodies of the lower classes and outcasts of society. Over the past few decades tattoos have migrated on to the celebrity skin of today's pop culture icons. In the past twenty years, tattoos have moved from deviant subcultures to the mainstream, and yet are still considered to be a mark of the disfavored factions of society. The dominant culture continues to regard the bearers of tattoos as social deviants, while at the same time appropriating tattoos for use as fashion statements, beauty enhancements, and mechanisms for continued oppression. While tattoos make their way from the prison cell to the pop culture runway, how are they perceived by law enforcement? Are tattoos still seen as markers of deviance or has law enforcement adopted the mainstream culture's perception and view tattoos as self-expressive artwork? Do tattoos negatively influence law enforcement's judgment where individual discretion is exercised? The purpose of this study was to examine the arrest patterns of arrestees with visible tattoos using a critical theory perspective to determine if tattoos and arrest seriousness are related. This study also examines tattoo placement and type in affecting the severity of arrest charges. The data used in this study is a random sample of 2011 Pinellas County Florida arrestees (N=3,733). Numerous logistic regression models were utilized in this analysis and resulted in no consistently significant association between tattoos (visibility, placement, or type) and severity of offense charges. This provides evidence that the use of tattoos as a marker for deviance does not appear to influence police behavior any differently than other characteristics such as race.

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