- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

City officials have set aside nearly $2 million to pay former inmates to remove graffiti, a D.C. Council member said yesterday.

The program, administered through the Department of Public Works, will employ 27 of the roughly 48,000 unemployed former inmates who reside in the District.

“These ex-offenders have no employment, and these jobs hire people where they are,” said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat who took credit for securing the funds to pay for the initiative.

Mike Carter, deputy director of the Public Works Department, said the extra workers would dramatically increase the city’s crew of six full-time graffiti-removal workers to keep up with requests.

The funds were contained in the budget for fiscal 2008, which begins in October. No workers have been hired yet, Mr. Carter said.

From January through May, the Department of Public Works recorded 1,444 reports of graffiti. Nearly 70 percent of them, or 984 reports, originated in Wards 1, 2 and 4, which are located primarily in Northwest.

A Metropolitan Police Department spokesman yesterday said the department does not keep statistics on graffiti arrests. Criminal penalties for applying graffiti include fines of $250 to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, earlier this month introduced emergency legislation to reduce the time allotted for residents and city workers to remove graffiti.

Right now, property owners must sign a waiver available online before the city’s Department of Public Works can remove the graffiti, which takes city crews about a month or longer. The mayor aims to cut the time to within eight business days of notification.

Under the proposed legislation, crews would leave notification cards at the properties that detail the owners’ options to either request a graffiti-removal kit or paint voucher, or give the city consent to remove it.

Property owners who refuse may face legal action such as fines.

Not responding to the card would give implied consent to removal, under the legislation.

The council referred the bill to the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, which is chaired by Mr. Graham, and members are expected to consider it after the council returns from its summer recess in September.

City officials said graffiti is often used by gang members to “tag” their territory. The approved fiscal 2008 budget included $250,000 for graffiti-proof paint and $100,000 for community murals, which Mr. Graham said are unlikely targets for “tagging.”

The site for the first mural is the north wall of Cluck-U Chicken restaurant on Georgia Avenue in Northwest, Mr. Graham said at a press conference outside the restaurant yesterday.

Six amateur artists, students from Alexander Graham Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest, volunteered to design the mural.

The students said yesterday was the first time they had seen the wall where their artwork would go, and they still had not decided on a theme.

Some residents in Ward 1 were encouraged by Mr. Graham’s decision to hire former prisoners to clean up the graffiti.

“Ex-offenders being hired will help because they probably know where most of the taggers are and the places where they tag,” said Al Johnson, 27, who lives in Petworth near the Cluck-U Chicken restaurant.

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