Prisoner Plastic Surgery Was Free For Nearly 90 Years In the U.S. Until a Public Outcry Stopped It

In the early 1900s, plastic surgery was not very well regarded. Plastic surgeons were considered disreputable and weren’t even allowed access into the American Medical Association. The idea was if you were a doctor, you shouldn’t be concerned about people’s vanity. Yet, plastic surgery's impacts weren’t disregarded. As early as 1910, New York prison commissioner Henry Solomon advocated for free plastic surgery for the state’s criminals, arguing the relationship between physical defects and crime. He believed that "a man’s physical condition makes it easier for him to steal a dollar than to earn one.” At some prisons, healthcare came to be seen as rehabilitative and cosmetic surgery fell under that banner. Since the 1930s, plastic surgery was included in medical care provided by Sing Sing Prison. Some of the most popular prison surgeries were rhinoplasty, where surgeons straightened and slimmed noses, installed chin implants for a firmer profile, removed scars and performed facelifts, all in an effort to give criminals the confidence to go out and get a job and become upstanding citizens. In 1989, despite occurring in around 44 state prisons and a number of federal prisons, programs offering plastic surgery became the target of public outcry, with people objecting to taxpayer dollars going to fund “vanity surgeries.” By the mid-1990s, plastic surgery at prisons was discontinued. The public believed that if rehabilitation is really desired, the goal posts should be individualized psychological assessment, rather than vanity surgery.