A Corrections fund to help former prisoners remove gang-related hand and face tattoos is almost depleted.

The $100,000 allocated for the programme was supposed to last three years, but it’s been so popular that just $27,000 is left.

The programme sees prisoners apply to receive funding to have their tattoos removed.

Corrections commissioner of custodial services Leigh Marsh said preference is given to those with hand and face tattoos in visible areas.

“We ask for the reason for removal, what the person’s previous behaviour has been like, and what their progress is on their offender plan.

“This all helps us to decide whether the person is genuine in their request for us to fund the removal.”

Marsh said an offender’s application could also be denied for several reasons — like tattoos not being gang tattoos, prisoners wanting them removed for the wrong reasons, or because they are not in a visible place with no link to their rehabilitation or reintegration.

“We are also having to be very aware of gangs taking or trying to take over other gangs and they are demanding people get their current gang tattoo removed so they can get the new gang tattoo put in its place.”

Since its establishment in February last year, Corrections has received 179 referrals for people in prison and the community.

Of those applications, 136 have been approved totalling $73,290 in allocated funding.

Marsh said contracts will be reviewed towards the end of the three-year period, but no decisions on future funding have been made.

Helena Carter from deINK Tattoo Removal and one of her clients, former gang member Te Kahui Kani, joined Breakfast to discuss the programme.

Kani said it was crucial to continue funding the programme so prisoners could better reintegrate into society after their release.

“It just unlocks a whole lot of new doors that were closed off,” he said.

“Because you come from a place with no options, it’s giving me a future and a future for my kids.”

Kani got his first tattoo in 2017, and as time progressed, he “went a bit extreme”.

He said his tattoos cause people to be “intimidated” by him.

“I don’t really see the point why people should be intimidated. I’m a loveable chap.”

When asked why taxpayers would be OK with funding tattoo removal, Kani said: “I believe everyone deserves a second chance.”

“Some people might be sitting there thinking: ‘Well, why did you get it done in the first place?’

“I come from a little town called Wairoa, and there’s not much options for us — this is what you’ve got to look forward to.”

Carter said some prisoners “don’t often get to choose” whether they get tattoos.

She talked about a prisoner she treated who was held down and forced to have tattoos and said another had his jaw broken during the “violent” application.

Carter said a lot of prisoners don’t have much money when they’re released, making the fund crucial.

“It’s simple, and I don’t charge a lot. I love doing this work, so even when there’s no funding, I don’t charge a lot.”

“But if you don’t have the money, there’s nowhere to go with that,” she said.

Carter said tattoo removal has turned lives around, saying society would be “better off to give these people a chance” than to leave the tattoos and give them “no chance”.

“Society will be better if everyone can live to the best of their abilities.”

Asked what his message to the Government would be, Kani said: “Fund it.”

“There are people out there who actually want their help.

“There are some people out there who might muck around, but there are some genuine people out here who really want it, and they really need it,” he said.

In a statement to Breakfast, Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell said: “The current level of funding for the programme has not been raised with me as an issue and is ultimately an operational matter for Corrections.”

“However, I remain open to such a discussion of what is required,” he said.