Australian teenager sentenced to three months in jail for graffiti

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On January 11, 2009, an 18-year-old teenager was arrested for writing her nickname, "2shie", on a wall in a café near Hyde Park, Sydney, Australia. After the arrest, the teenager, Cheyene Back, pleaded guilty to intentionally or recklessly damaging property.

Cheyene Back had been captured on a closed-circuit security camera at the "Hyde Park Cafe" on Macquarie Street, when she and friends wrote on the wall. Robert Napoli, a co-defendant, has had his case adjourned. They were arrested by police outside the café.

On Tuesday, Magistrate Ian McRae sentenced Back to three months in jail for her offences, even though Back is a first-time offender in the eyes of the court. Back, who is from Daceyville, immediately lodged an appeal and has been freed on unconditional bail until the appeal is heard.

The owner of the café, Song Wang, is seeking A$200 in compensation for the damages, however, she does not believe the jail sentence is appropriate.

"Give them more education, provide more education, and let them do some community service," she said. Nevertheless, Back and her friends are habitual offenders, according to Wang.

"This group did came [sic] to my cafe every week around Wednesday or Thursday, once a week," she said. "One day the girl made [graffiti] just inside the toilet and all over the walls and smashed my mirror. They even got on the roof, I don't know how they did that, it was all over."

"You know it was really frustrating when she did it, but the whole group did it, not just her," Wang said. "I think it's a little bit harsh ... Maybe she can do some community work or something, such as letting her clean all the graffiti off, let her know how hard the work is she makes [sic]."

New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees welcomed the jail term. He says everywhere he goes, graffiti is a problem.

What do you think the appropriate punishment for Cheyene Back should be?

"This sends a message that it's not something that the community regards as a frivolous offence," Rees said. "It is something that affects not only the aesthetic but people's sense of safety around the place if they see graffiti around and they think there is other anti-social behaviour going with it. I think a three-month jail term is absolutely appropriate."

Professor Chris Cunneen, a criminologist at the University of New South Wales says the jail sentence does not match the scale of the crime.

"In the adult courts, a normal sort of penalty in relation to that offence would be a fine of some sort and some form of restitution for the property owner," Cunneen said.

According to anti-vandalism group "Graffiti Hurts", graffiti costs Australian taxpayers A$500 million each year.