Juvenile Justice and Graffiti

Table of Content

Graffiti is considered one of the artistic movements that is growing so fast. Some people have referred to it as the twenty-first century heir of pop art culture and largely compared to the cubist revolution. Most of graffiti art can be found anywhere as long as it is exposed to wide number of public eye domain. These spots are usually selected carefully by the graffiti artist so as to ensure that their work gets a lot of exposure or a large audience outreach. Spray painting type of graffiti entails detailed signatures and tags. This technique of graffiti is mainly used by gangs to mark their respective territory that they put a claim on and also by graffiti artist. Usually the spray paint graffiti has an inner message that is trying to be put across by and for the graffiti community members, therefore, only a few members of the society ends up understanding the graffiti pieces.

People who take part in graffiti painting term it as an art but in most cases these people who paint stores, walls, and buildings without permission from the property owner are going against the law of vandalism. Graffiti art is considered a type of vandalism since it is malicious mischief, because one intentional causes a destruction of someone else’s personal property. Therefore,” A person caught practicing graffiti printing is considered guilty of a criminal offence under section one of the Criminal Damaging Act that was passed into a law in 1971 (CDA 1971)” (Howell,2015, pg.5). The sentences given is usually not definitive, they range from a conditional clearance from the magistrate court when its only a minor damage to sentence of up to ten years by the high court if the damage is considered massive. Young offenders on the other hand are usually just given time to do community service or charged a fine sometimes both.

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Tagging is considered the most common type of graffiti that there is out there. These graffiti artists have perfected this art and they put out their signatures on their pieces of work ‘tag’ when they have painted something so as to act as their type of identity. Many people who ‘tag’ their graffiti painting does it so as to mark their territory or to show people that they had been there. More often than not, its mainly young people who are associated with tagging and other forms of graffiti art. Individuals gain so much pleasure in finishing a piece of work without getting caught, they get so much adrenaline rush that it gets to be addictive. Tagging also brings the artist immense satisfaction that come with the permanency state of the art. Probably one tag is never a problem, but the main problem usually arises when other artists follow suit and they also leave their tag, this results in property full of tags since everyone wants to communicate their piece of ,mind to their fellow taggers.

Young people in gang related groups could use tags as a sign of marking their territory. This marks their claim on that particular area and can also cause intimidation to the local community around and also other rival gangs. “The fact that most spaces are just built without taking into consideration the design, many youths fall into peer pressure to use these large walls as their canvases because they want to prove that they are daring.” (Howell,2015, pg.6). Others who engage in tagging are just used who are depressed and use it as their coping mechanism. These people tend to be so anti-social with people in the society and therefore, they can only get to express themselves through tags making them feel alive for some period of time in their life.

The use if graffiti trackers in the police departments was a gamechanger for graffiti artists massively. Most of these young adults who were caught tagging, were used to getting some fines or community service and rarely were they given a long-term sentence to do. This technology caused a changed in the judicial system so much so that the jury rarely have a say in the sentence. This therefore,” makes it impossible for the defendant to plead for mercy, and get a pardon especially if it’s a first time ever arrest of the individual after tagging many buildings and property.” (Tong, et al 2011, pg. 6) The only thing that the police department needs to do is to acquire the software and when the public works team goes to paint over a graffiti that has been done by taggers, they first take a photo of the tag and load into the system database. Because most taggers are known to paint the same moniker on their next tag, when one is caught all the police needs to do is run that tagin the database to get a pseudonym of all the graffiti the individual has ever done (Tong, et al 2011, pg. 6). This leads to hefty sentence, more so because they have played the system for a while and they thought they would never be caught despite them using the same tags on all their graffiti. It would be more convenient if they use different tags, however human beings tend to want the feeling of identity and this is their way of identifying with their art, the very same way they aid the police in identifying them eventually.

This technology has really caused a radical change in how graffiti offense is punished, this has therefore led to graffiti punishments being pumped up in the police departments. This has yielded so many lucrative results across the departments that use this technology and the result is so many minors behind bars. A very good example is in San Diego police department.2011 marked the first year they had used graffiti tracker that they had launched countrywide. The amount of money they got in terms of compensation moved from $170,000 to about $800,000. From this amount approximately $300,000 were collected from juvenile cases alone. In some other jurisdictions the number changed from around $45,000 to almost $400,00. “These figures is a clear explanation why after a decade later San Diego and these other jurisdictions are still utilizing the graffiti tracker database software despite the fact that, minors get to be sentenced ,and their young lives ruined because of some form of street art that they are probably just using as a means to express themselves in this generation where so many minors tend to be going through a lot of depression” (Santos, et al 2017, pg.28). The greed to making money from these minors is what has made the police departments not to stop using this technology since it has proved to be lucrative in the long run for them. The resources they would probably channel in prosecuting other most dangerous criminal activities like robbery and arson.

There have been massive criticisms of this technology in terms of the algorithm that is used in that, there can be loops in feedback, machine learning obscurity, error and potential racial bias (Santos, et al 2017, pg.29). The semi-intended repercussion of this bureaucratic information technology project and the law enforcement system databases function as legislation just with another name. this therefore raises the question when did we get to the point where technology can decide for us the relationship there is between crime and punishment and not fellow human beings.

In the state of California, robbery or rape offender can be charged up to a maximum of $10,000, however it is interesting that for a first time arrest graffiti the fine can go up to $87,000 depending on the number of incidences picked up by the graffiti tracker software with thee same tag of the accused (Santos, et al 2017, pg.29).. This just shows the lack of democracy and pure draconian rules, since the technology has erased completely the difference that there is in being caught only ones from being caught several times before, altering the relationship that there is between crime and punishment. “This is like the next time an individual is pulled over for over-speeding, the officer can download the persons car’s GPS history, give them tickets, and points on license for all the times they have sped in the past years.” (Dittrich,2014, pg.194)

The Graffiti trackers were brought into the system completely independent of thee law. After it took into effect all that has resulted is a documentation on everything that is wrong with this type of independence. The moment the system decides to let technology lead as the law follows behind then the future that awaits humanity is not a pleasing one at all. Laws need to change with the circumstances that presents itself and therefore, first time juvenile graffiti arrest should just be a wake-up call and not necessarily a life-shattering type of sentence.


  1. Dittrich, K. R. (2014). Filing Decisions for Juvenile Gang Offenses: How to Make Gang Charges Stick. W. St. L. Rev., 42, 193.
  2. Howell, K. B. (2015). Gang policing: The post stop-and-frisk justification for profile-based policing. U. Denv. Crim. L. Rev., 5, 1.
  3. Santos, X., & Bickel, C. (2017). Apartheid Justice: Gang Injunctions and the New Black Codes. In Race, Ethnicity and Law (pp. 27-38). Emerald Publishing Limited.
  4. Tong, W., Lee, J. E., Jinn, R., & Jain, A. K. (2011, November). Gang and moniker identification by graffiti matching. In Proceedings of the 3rd international ACM workshop on Multimedia in forensics and intelligence (pp. 1-6). ACM.

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Juvenile Justice and Graffiti. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from


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