Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

'I Don't Do It to Be Deviant It's Just Unfortunate That It's Illegal': Prolific Graffiti Offenders' Perspectives on What It Would Take to Stop Them from Writing Graffiti Illegally on the Streets

Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

'I Don't Do It to Be Deviant It's Just Unfortunate That It's Illegal': Prolific Graffiti Offenders' Perspectives on What It Would Take to Stop Them from Writing Graffiti Illegally on the Streets

Article excerpt

Introduction

Graffiti is a divisive issue within society. For instance, people who view graffiti in a positive light consider it to be an urban art-form that provides writers with an anti-establishment platform for a) expressing their opposition to society's dominant mainstream ideology and b) bringing about social, political, or environmental change (1-3). In addition, proponents also generally consider the graffiti subculture to be a benign collection of writers who provide each other with a supportive friendship network in which they can perfect their artistic talents (3). Indeed, this subcultural friendship network is viewed as being the mechanism by which writers create an alternate sense of place and belonging within society, one that is free from the mainstream culture's abuses of power and monetary greed (3-4).

In contrast, people who view graffiti in a negative light tend to consider graffiti tags, throw-ups and pieces as being the unauthorized and illegally written, scratched, marked, sprayed or affixed defacement of property (see 5). Opponents of the legitimization of graffiti under the innocuous urban art banner consider individuals who deface other people's property to be vandals who deliberately engage in acts of hegemonic criminality (3). Such criminality claims are supported by recent research which has demonstrated a three year transition from prolific 'nuisance' graffiti offender to serious criminal offender (2, 5, 11). Opponents of graffiti also maintain that the defacement writers do to public infrastructure and private buildings contributes to the visible deterioration of a neighborhood and to the erosion of its inhabitants' sense of security (3). It is not surprising then that graffiti is construed by some people to be a 'scourge on society', which engenders fears of antisociality and criminal activity among society's more vulnerable members (i.e., the elderly and the infirm). Finally, opponents of graffiti contend that the cost of removing graffiti from city streets places an unnecessary monetary burden on the public purse (1).

Given that graffiti proliferation adversely affects some voters' sense of security and its removal places a substantial cost on the public purse it is not surprising that people in positions of societal governance consider harsh punitive measures to be the most effective means of deterring writers (3,6). In Western Australia this type of thinking predominates, for its State Government has passed a series of amendments to the 1913 Criminal Code Compilation Act which now gives the Judiciary the power to impose substantial sentences (e.g., fines up to $36,000 and up to three years of imprisonment) on prolific graffiti offenders aged 18 years and older who have been prosecuted for willful property damage (1). For adolescents under the age of 18 years these punitive deterrence measures are somewhat moderated by the Children's Court's ability to issue cautions to first-through-third time juvenile offenders, and to divert repeat juvenile offenders who admit their guilt into a state run Juvenile Justice Team's intervention program. However, convicted recidivist juvenile offenders who do not admit their guilt are detained in the State's juvenile detention center. Opponents of punitive approaches to graffiti offending contend that such measures are ineffective because not only do they tend to stigmatize offenders, but they also tend to orientate them towards crime.

Thus, research which increases public and governmental understanding of why prolific graffiti offenders are not deterred by a punitive approach to graffiti proliferation is critical to devising alternative effective deterrence programs. Particularly, as five aspects of graffiti motivation have typically been overlooked in the design of the current range of graffiti reduction measures. The first aspect being that one of the major allures of graffiti is that the act incurs significant risk. Hence, engagement in graffiti provides writers with a sizeable adrenaline rush which over time becomes addictive (7). …

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