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Let's make graffiti punishment fit the crime
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Graffiti tagging is a wanton act of vandalism.

It is conducted by gutless punks who deface others' property because they think they have the right to do so.

Some of it is gang-related. All of it, though, is done by individuals whose apparent self-esteem is under pressure in a can of spray paint.

Police have a fairly good track record of nailing a portion of those responsible. But even so, whatever fines and punishments are doled out by the justice system doesn't seem to be sending much of an effective message for deterrence.

It is tempting to want an eye-for-an-eye to have the property of the taggers defaced in some form or another that they find objectionable. But while that might give you great satisfaction if you've ever been a target of graffiti vandalism, it won't necessarily deflate the egos involved and would probably encourage an escalation of vandalism.

That's why it would be ideal if the Legislature gave the criminal justice system the power - or the requirement - to dole out a punishment that fits the crime.

Taggers apparently have plenty of time on their hands at night. This is when the cowards do their defacing so the chances of them being detected are minimized.

Those caught should be required to work on paint details during the summer months from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. until they work off the equivalent of the cost of the damage they incurred, some reasonable pain and suffering factored in as well as what it cost taxpayers to tie up the criminal justice system resources to nail them for their crimes against the community.

It cost hundreds of dollars to clean up most tagging incidents properly. An equal amount of resources are spent investigating and tracking the culprit down and prosecuting them.

If the tab comes to $1,689, then the convicted tagger should be required to devote the hourly equivalent in community service by working off their obligation at the minimum wage of $8 an hour. The minimum wage would be "paid" by deducting it against the total cost of the damage they caused.

And we're not talking litter pick-up here.

In such a scenario, we're talking 200 hours of community service owed at minimum wage.

They would be assigned to paint the exterior of public buildings and other structures until they worked off the 200 hours of labor obligation.

It isn't cruel and unusual punishment because they already demonstrated an uncontrollable need to paint the buildings.

And since they normally do their damage at night, obviously they don't have more pressing things to do.

If homes/stores/offices/schools happen to get tagged while they are doing their community service, they would be switched to work details not only to cover the graffiti but to make the entire areas all match.

Nothing would be more satisfying than to have a convicted tagger painting over the criminal act of a fellow tagger. It would be sweet justice.

And even if it doesn't result in a reduction of tagging, at least the community will be made whole instead of a two-bit vandal getting off with costing property owners and taxpayers alike big dollars and then only getting slapped with a small fine or insufficient punishment.

Such a plan may involve too much logistics. If that is the case, why not create a state program requiring spending, let's say four weeks in a "penalty camp" set up at a major railroad yard where they do 12 hours a day cleaning and repainting of freight box cars. The other 12 hours they are still in custody for meals and shelter using the very box cars they defaced.

The longer time period would help them work off the cost of the camp as well.

Such a strategy would clean up the countless thousands of box cars that taggers have marred in this state.

The punishment should fit the crime.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail