Why Wanton Vandalism?

It’s In your court

Judge Steve Halsey
Wright County District Court

Frequently in juvenile court we judges see cases of vandalism from minor egg-throwing to major wanton acts of property destruction in the tens of thousands of dollars. I have never been able to understand the mindset of the juveniles involved in such incidents. Sometimes the juveniles explain that they didn’t plan on doing any damage and that it was their friends that goaded them into participating, i.e. peer pressure. Surveys have shown that the typical vandal is a young male middle school student acting in a small group.

Psychologists have categorized vandalism into these types:

• Acquisitive vandalism is committed to obtain property or money.

• Tactical vandalism is used to accomplish goals such as getting school cancelled.

• Ideological vandalism is oriented toward a social or political cause or message, such as a protest against school rules.

• Vindictive vandalism (such as setting fire to the principal’s office after being punished) is done to get revenge.

• Play vandalism occurs when youth intentionally damage property during the course of play.

• Malicious vandalism is used to express rage or frustration. Because of its viciousness and apparent senselessness, people find this type particularly difficult to understand.

Kelly Dedel, School Vandalism and Break-Ins, University at Albany (2005) http://www.popcenter.org/problems/vandalism/print/

If we focus solely on wanton vandalism, that is, mindless acts of property destruction with no monetary gain: What can possibly be the root causes beyond peer pressure? Boredom? Video games? Poor parenting and lack of supervision? I conclude that it is likely some or all of these factors, as well as the thrill of tasting of the forbidden fruit, by getting away with a crime. The perpetrators of such acts usually have never considered the possible adverse consequences to the victims of such vandalism. These could include temporary and permanent loss of use of the property, and expensive costs of repair or replacement. Perhaps they assume that insurance will pay for the damage so it really is a victimless crime.

What is even more disturbing than the acts themselves is the unwillingness of some parents to hold their child accountable. Some parents invoke immediate consequences, such as grounding, and loss of privileges upon the child. Others do not, explaining I wanted to wait to see what the judge would do. Certainly the farther away the consequence is from the act, the less deterrent effect there is upon the child.

—Submitted by Judge Steve Halsey, Wright County District Court, chambered in Buffalo.


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