Legislation passing through the NSW Parliament that sends more children to court for graffiti will do nothing to reduce graffiti and is a step backwards, according to the Greens NSW and the submission of the Law Society of NSW.
This legislation will push more children into our courts system and is not supported by any evidence that it will reduce graffiti vandalism. The Greens NSW continue to advocate non-punitive community-based solutions, such as those instituted in the Balmain electorate by Leichhardt Council.
The Graffiti Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 amends the Children (Community Service Orders) Act 1987 and the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 to compel courts to impose community service orders for graffiti offences that require young people to remove graffiti (unless it is not reasonably practicable).
It also changes the Graffiti Control Act 2008 to allow courts to make orders concerning drivers’ licenses of those found guilty of committing graffiti offences of owning graffiti implements. These include increasing probationary periods by 6 months and limiting the number of demerits that can be accrued.
However the fundamental change in the Bill is that it compels young people to attend court. It does this by removing power from the police to deal with young offenders by way of an on the spot fine or youth justice conference instead of court proceedings.
Once passed police will have just two options, send the child to court or let them go.
The real cost: more juveniles in the justice system
In presenting the Bill the Attorney-General produced no evidence to show that this new punitive approach is likely to be effective in reducing graffiti incidents.
The Attorney General has said that cleaning graffiti and street art is costing over $100 million each year. These figures are untested and the government has failed to reveal how much it is going to cost to send all of these young people into the justice system.
Under the government’s plan, the public will foot the bill for magistrates, police, court reporters prosecutors and the like because one young person wrote their name on a train carriage. These direct costs, together with the social impact of sending children to courts, mean that the Attorney-General will likely spend many times more than he is going to save.
All across the globe governments are realising that punitive measures for juvenile indiscretions have a negative effect on the young people involved, and in general end up costing the public much more than investing in effective social programs
Government estimates released to the Greens in response to questions on notice to the Attorney General have revealed that the number of young people in gaols in NSW is expected to remain at record high levels until at least 2013, at an average of over 400 young people per day.
Sending more children to court for minor offences such as graffiti will simply exacerbate this problem.
Concerns of the Law Society
The Law Society’s Criminal Law and Juvenile Justice Committees have expressed grave concerns about the removal of the power for police to deal with young offenders who have committed graffiti offences by way of caution, warning or youth justice conference, stating it is contrary to the principle that criminal proceedings should not be instituted against a child if there is an appropriate alternative means of dealing with the offence.
Moreover, the increased use of Community Service Orders is likely to lead to increased incarceration rates as breach of CSOs can result in time in custody in a detention centre.
The Law Society is also concerned about the use of drivers’ license sanctions for offences that are unrelated to driving, pointing out that this approach has failed when it comes to fine enforcement against young people and is likely to lead to a significant increase in driving offences by young people driving whilst suspended.
The Leichhardt Model: An alternate approach
A successful alternative approach has been undertaken in Balmain, where Leichhardt Council’s Graffiti Management Policy has been effective in reducing incidents of graffiti, not through a punitive approach aimed at locking up more young people, but through applying strategies in planning and design, community involvement and education and protection and removal. It is less sexy but in the end far more effective than using the police.
By applying a design protocol known as Crime Prevention through Environmental Design, Leichhardt Council has been able to reduce graffiti vandalism. Examples of this approach include using landscaping as an anti-graffiti device, creating public spaces that are well lit, well-utilised and feel safe, increasing natural surveillance by designing adequate sight lines into public space, installing motion detection lighting in under-utilised spaces and attracting the community to public spaces which receive low usage through activity generators such as community art, cafes and play equipment.
The Council has also focussed on community education and removal of graffiti within 48 hours, setting up a graffiti removal team and providing free graffiti removal kits to private owners.
The Council also established the LikeArt initiative designed to facilitate alternative and legal art opportunities for young people who may otherwise engage in graffiti. The evidence shows that the LikeArt Beat Graffiti Strategy has been successful in reducing tagging on walls and signal boxes.
At War Memorial Park in Leichhardt, for example, tagging incidents requiring graffiti removal diminished from more than twice a week to less than twice a year after council’s actions.