A program allowing juvenile offenders to log in community service hours is taking a bite out of the graffiti marring the local community.
Administered by Pennsylvania Treatment and Healing, or PATH, in partnership with the county Juvenile Probation Office, the program sends youthful offenders on graffiti eradication missions under the supervision of Nancy Shires, PATH community service coordinator.
Work crews use a variety of methods to remove or cover graffiti, Shires said.
Nancy Shires, PATH community service coordinator, right, supervises three juvenile offenders as they put mortar over graffiti on a floodwall adjacent to the Susquehanna River Walk on the South Williamsport side of the river.
"We've removed graffiti from vinyl garage doors with a special remover," she said. "If it's on concrete, we will use a mortar mix to cover it and if it's on wood, we use paint."
Juveniles who participate in the program meet with Shires at PATH offices at 1536 Catherine St. and are transported to the work site.
Projects are identified by codes officers, the police, municipal leaders or anyone else who is aware of the location of graffiti.
If the graffiti is on private property, permission is needed from the property owner for crews to remove or cover it, said Cleveland Way, PATH Williamsport office program manager. Property owners who refuse to grant permission may be referred to municipal codes officers and cited.
Community service is a major component of the juvenile justice
system and one in which all youthful offenders must participate, said Edward Robbins, chief juvenile probation officer.
"Every youth that comes through our doors has to do community service as accountability for their criminal acts," Robbins said.
A unique part of the program is that it often targets youth tied, in varying degrees, to gang activity. Some gang activity includes graffiti.
The idea for the program came out of a meeting Robbins had with District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt. Linhardt wanted juvenile offenders involved in positive activities and those who were tied to gangs doing community service that makes them accountable for their actions, Robbins said.
The idea gained the support of Williamsport Area School District officials, including School Resource Officer Jason Bolt, of the Williamsport Bureau of Police.
"It's definitely a very good idea," Robbins said of the program.
Funding for the program is through the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania.
According to Robbins, a grant application for funding to improve academic programs was submitted by Way to the foundation. The application contained a component for graffiti removal.
Although graffiti removal is only a small part of community service programs, it has been effective, Robbins said.
During a recent bicycle ride through the city, Robbins identified graffiti in only two areas. He photographed the sites, noted the locations and referred them to Way.
Shires said she believes the program is successful.
"I honestly think so," she said. "I've only seen one building where somebody did something more to it. Almost always, when we cover it, it stays covered."
During a recent afternoon, Shires was overseeing work by three young males, ages 17, 14 and 13, who were applying mortar to a floodwall adjacent to the Susquehanna River Walk on the South Williamsport side of the river.
Shires said she photographs the work site before, during and after the graffiti is covered or removed to show that the grant money is being used as intended.
At least one of the youths said he understands why the work needs to be done.
"If it was your property, would you want people to put graffiti on it? It's disrespectful," he said. "This shouldn't be like this. It should be clean."
According to Shires, if anyone knows the location of graffiti, they should call Robbins at 327-2427.