Socialist Worker

‘Using anti-social behaviour laws on kids is a nasty political trick’

Despite the almost uncritical media praise for Asbos, concern over their use stretches right across the board of those involved in caring for young people. Many organisations and individuals believe the current system is deeply flawed, with some

Issue No. 1930a

Liz Lovell, policy adviser at the Children’s Society charity

Asbos are criminalising children and young people without giving them the support they need to help them change their behaviour.

Children and young people tell us they don’t understand the term “anti-social behaviour”. Many don’t understand what they’ve done wrong or the conditions of the orders placed on them.

These orders are placed for at least two years - a long time in the life of a child. Some of the conditions are so restrictive that they prevent normal, healthy activity.

We know that at least a third have breached their orders, with around ten young people a week going into custody as a result.

We are particularly concerned about the “naming and shaming” of young people on Asbos - it is counterproductive.

Asbos can become a “badge of honour” for the child.

But it is also a problem for those children wanting to make a fresh start as they are publicly branded as troublemakers.

It can also allow sex offenders to target these young people who are often, underneath the bravado, very vulnerable.

Polly Neate, editor of Community Care, a magazine for social care professional

The biggest problem with Asbos is they end up criminalising behaviour that isn’t criminal - and that doesn’t help anybody.

These are very multifaceted problems that aren’t necessarily solved by just slapping an Asbo on a young person - and definitely not by some of the penalties for breaching an Asbo.

We need to be careful about the climate of fear that has been created around young people. They are being demonised.

People are frightened when they see young people being rowdy, and can overreact.

Joyce Moseley, chief executive of young people’s charity Rainer

We need continued investment in community-based approaches to prevent crime, such as youth inclusion programmes that focus on changing attitudes and behaviour.

We should be aiming to keep young people out of custody, not sending them there when they haven’t committed a criminal offence.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, which has called for Asbos for children to be abolished

We believe the government is obsessed with low level anti-social behaviour by children.

This legislation damages children and their communities, but it also distorts the efforts that can be put into dealing with and preventing more serious crimes that have a greater social cost. Using anti-social behaviour legislation on children is a nasty political trick. The government is seen to be doing something - but the real challenges are left unmet.

So much more could be achieved if the resources were used in a positive way to engage with children and provide services for those who feel they have nowhere to go and that nobody wants them.

Chris Stanley, head of youth crime at NACRO, the crime reduction charity

There is little research available on the effectiveness of Asbos in tackling young people’s behaviour, yet the government seems intent on encouraging local authorities to dish out more by competing in Asbo league tables, regardless of the long term results.

Asbo “name and shame” campaigns do nothing to tackle the serious issues underlying youth offending.

They not only reinforce an unrealistic perception and fear of crime, but also irresponsibly stigmatise children. This makes it harder for them to eventually play a positive role in their communities.

Richard Garside, director of the Crime and Society Foundation think-tank

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders were launched in April 1999. During that time, recipients have included a boy banned from saying the word “grass”, a 61 year old man who died in prison after breaching his Asbo, and an 86 year old Second World War veteran banned from banging his garage doors or being sarcastic.

Individuals who act in an anti-social manner can no doubt cause distress and misery to others. But the response must be just, proportionate and effective. Singling out often vulnerable individuals for special treatment, while doing little to address their needs, is unjust and ineffective.

Other ideas for action

  • Sign the open letter, available from the e-mail addresses above
  • Raise the issue in youth forums, trade union branches, schools, colleges and community groups.
  • Organise local meetings to debate ASBOs and alternative approaches.
  • Let us know what’s happening and what you are doing - e-mail
  • Get more copies of this supplement - phone Socialist Worker circulation on 020 7538 3305 or e-mail

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