Saturday, February 28, 2009

Addiction and punishment

Here we have a local electricity substation that has been vandalised.  I reported this to Energy Australia around 6 months ago, but it was never cleaned up.  I might have given them the wrong substation ID, or the job simply went walkabout.  This building is on a reasonably major road, and is right next to a large residential development.  It is not hidden away in a backwater somewhere, out of the eye of the public.  Even so, it has been left to steadily deteriorate at the hands of vandals.  This building will continue to degenerate unless someone reports it (don't worry, I reported it again yesterday).

Have a look at this close up - note the tag of "oats".  Mr Oats is a fairly prolific tagger in this area.  I assume he is male, since most vandals are male, and most are also under the age of 18.  Mr Oats has a prodigious work ethic, which unfortunately has been misdirected into a socially destructive behaviour.  I assume he is under 17, because his work spans a small geographic area, indicating that he is stuck with walking everywhere.  He is too young to drive.

Mr Oats clearly enjoys his work, because he leaves it everywhere.  I presume he gets a big kick out it - a natural high from an endorphin rush - and because of that, he is addicted to tagging.  He is the equivalent of a packet a day smoker - he's psychologically and physically hooked, and he won't give up easily.  Tagging gives his life meaning.  If you ask me, his life must be miserable for this sort of thing to give him meaning, but each to his own.

This is why I think harsher penalties for tagging won't work.  I'm not saying that I don't like harsh penalties - what I am saying is that it is extremely unlikely that Mr Oats will be caught, and even if he is caught, the Police are likely to hand out a caution because of his age.  Even if they do go the whole hog and take him to court, he'd have to be exceptionally unlucky to draw a "hanging and flogging" magistrate, and thus end up behind bars.  Community service is the most likely outcome, given that there is little point in slapping a $2200 fine on a 15 year old boy with no money and no job.  That's the opinion that I have drawn from reading crime statistics for the last few years.  The facts on those arrested, charged and jailed speak for themselves.

I can see that Mr Oats is shaking in his boots following the recent passing of tougher legislation - not.  He faces almost no chance of getting caught, because it is simply not a priority to the Police.  If they do catch him, he's unlikely to go to court.  If he does go to court, the likelihood of prison is extremely remote.  A light slapping with a wet lettuce leaf is the worst case.

I'm sure his greatest concern at the moment is where he can steal his next stash of spray cans from.

This is why I concentrate on the clean-up angle.  The government can posture and talk tough and throw around harsh penalties, but in the end, all we want is this muck removed.  And it will never get removed unless it's reported.

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