Most youths know June means the start of summer vacation — the month they gain their freedom.

For those caught vandalizing public or private property, it's also the starting time for the work crews organized by the state's juvenile justice services. And it has little to do with freedom.

Every summer Jim Miller, supervisor and youth coordinator, helps youths between the ages of 12 and 17 to fulfill court-ordered service hours. Miller tries to make sure those caught painting graffiti spend their time, typically between 50 and 100 hours, removing or painting over graffiti.

Over the past 14 years the county's graffiti problem has grown exponentially, said Nancy White, Salt Lake County graffiti program manager. Brett Ahlander, removal supervisor for Salt Lake City, said he's noticed a huge increase in just the past three or four years. Some of it is gang-related, some of it is supposed to be artistic and some is just vandalism. Not all perpetrators are minors, either, he said.

Miller said he rarely sees repeat offenders among his summer work crews. Dedicating one day a week to cleaning paint for four or five hours and then attending seminars the rest of the day on life skills or victim awareness usually cures the graffiti itch, he said.

Sometimes it gets awkward when a youth is asked to paint over the signs of gangs they're affiliated or sympathetic to. They don't want to, he said, but that's when it's especially important to make sure they're learning something from their service hours.

"It's pretty effective," Miller said. "We try to do processing with them while they work, breaking down the property damage involved, how it's not a pointless crime, how people are affected."

White lines up the weekly projects. She gives Miller a location and his crew of six to eight youths show up and each takes a site. The organization takes a lot of work, so White attacks most graffiti with a full-time crew. Wiping away or painting over graffiti quickly after it shows up reduces the vandal's satisfaction. If a perpetrator knows his work will be cleaned up soon after, he loses interest in painting in that area. For this reason, White works hard to clean up all reported graffiti on county property within 48 hours. It's a difficult task that relies heavily on hot-lines to which residents can report sites.

"It's more than paint on a wall. It makes people so mad, like a hit in the gut," White said.

The rise in graffiti over the past decade has kept White's crew busy during work hours, reducing the time they have to cruise around looking for unreported paint. Ahlander's staff focuses solely on city property and has trouble keeping up.

Grace Sperry, chairwoman of the Sugar House Community Council board of trustees, said parks in the Sugar House area are particularly hard-hit by vandals. The city can't put up a sign without it getting entirely covered within few weeks, she said.

That's why Ahlander also encourages people to join the "Adopt-A-Spot" program. If residents pledge to clean up paint on a particular section of the city, that's one less site he has to worry about. To join the program or to report graffiti on city property call the hotline: 972-7885. To report it on county property call 363-4723 or go to:

E-mail: [email protected]