Graffiti is a serious crime that causes damage to property and costs owners hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair. Often it cant really be fully repaired at all. But worse, it makes neighborhoods look run-down and uncared for, sending a message to others that it wont matter if they decide to add more graffiti, litter or blight to the area. Graffiti has a significant indirect effect on the quality of life in addition to the direct physical damage it causes, so it really should be handled seriously, said Majority Whip Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).
The legislation (2013-S 0548) would make graffiti a felony when it causes more than $1,000 in damage to property, whether it is public, private or commercial. It eliminates a break in the current law that gives first-time offenders lesser penalties, instead making them subject to the same fine of up to $1,000 and 200 hours of community service as repeat offenders, and adds the possibility of up to a year in jail for all offenders. It also allows the court to order restitution by the offender for the full cost of the damage, or order the offender to perform the cleanup or perform some other kind of restitution.
Additionally, if the graffiti is located in a place like an overpass or an underpass where the removal process would disrupt traffic, the bill would allow the court to fine the offender an additional $1,000 to pay for the necessary traffic detail.
The legislation adds new penalties for minors found responsible for graffiti. Under the bill, Family Court could order the child to write a formal apology to the victim or victims if the graffiti occurred on private property or write a report on the significance of the site to the community or another topic if it was public property. The court would also order the child to contribute to the restitution through payment, performance of repairs, or service to the property owner. The court could also hold the childs guardian responsible for restitution of the damage, up to $10,000. Additionally, the court could suspend the minors drivers license or invalidate his or her learners permit for up to a year. The court would have authority over reinstating the minors license or permit before the suspension is over if he or she has repaired the damage caused or otherwise carried out restitution.
In the fall, Senator Goodwin announced a partnership with Coca Cola Refreshments in Providence to clean up graffiti in and around her district in the Smith Hill neighborhood. Senator Goodwin facilitated the volunteer effort with Coca Cola, which provided paint, machinery and manpower to clean up vandalized sites identified throughout the community. Senator Goodwin also met with Providence Police, who have been working to make more arrests in connection with the vandalism. At that time, she pledged to introduce this legislation to increase penalties for graffiti.
Graffiti shouldnt be treated lightly. Its a genuine crime with real victims and high costs. It robs neighborhoods of their quality of life, and those who commit that vandalism should be held responsible for their actions, said Senator Goodwin.
The legislation is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today at the rise of the Senate session (around 4:30 p.m.) in Room 313 on the third floor of the State House.