A new report argues that the use of Anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) against young people is counterproductive.
The report from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) calls for an end to Asbos for under-12 year olds and for cutting the time for which Asbos can be awarded to young people – currently two to ten years – to six to 24 months.
It also calls for a wider rethink about the way young people are treated in the criminal justice system.
Labour introduced Asbos in 1998. They can be served against ten year old children.
The only criteria a magistrate must use in deciding to impose an Asbo is that the individual has behaved in a manner “that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”.
Asbos can be used to ban people from a range of activities – such as going to certain areas, meeting with named people or even dressing in a particular way.
Breaching the conditions of an Asbo is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison – meaning people are sent to prison for behaviour that is not illegal in itself.
In 2005 around 3,500 people were imprisoned for breaching an Asbo. As Asbos are disproportionately used against under-18 year olds, this is adding to the numbers of children and young people in prison and secure units, which has more than doubled in England and Wales since 1993.
Asbos are just one of a raft of measures brought in by New Labour to tackle “anti-social behaviour”. Behind all these measures is the idea that young people are a threat.
The IPPR report argues that this must be countered. It says, “We must challenge and question the language used in media and by public figures (including politicians) to describe young people, and refute the claim that young people are somehow distinct from mainstream society.”
Carey Oppenheim, the co-director of the IPPR, warns, “Britain is in danger of becoming a nation fearful of its young people.”
The IPPR report is just one in a string of reports and campaigns that have criticised the increased criminalisation and demonisation of young people under Labour.
Asbos are not just counterproductive, they are harmful to young people. Unicef last year pointed to the low sense of wellbeing among children in Britain. Young people need to be offered choices about their future, not criminalised.