Socialist Worker

Asbo Concern: ‘War on yobs’ stigmatises children

by Tash Shifrin
Issue No. 1942

Young people who don’t fit exactly with New Labour’s vision can be treated as criminals	 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Young people who don’t fit exactly with New Labour’s vision can be treated as criminals (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Charities and campaigners have reacted angrily after the government called for public “naming and shaming” of people who have anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) served on them.

Home secretary Charles Clarke issued official guidance last week that means children as young as ten will be “named and shamed”, with their photographs and personal details plastered over local papers and distributed in their local area.

“Publicity should be expected in most cases,” the guidance says. Clarke’s law and order rhetoric calling for a crackdown on “yobs” was echoed in the tabloids and right wing press.

But children’s charity NCH warns that publication of children’s names and addresses could result in serious harm.

“It is very likely that such action would place a child at risk of harm,” says Jacqui McCluskey, senior policy adviser at NCH. “In some areas there have been reports of vigilante attacks on the children identified.

“Naming and shaming will stigmatise children and young people in their own community. This can have a devastating impact on the whole family, including younger siblings.”

The government claims a recent court case opens the door for its aggressive “name and shame” policy.

The case was taken by civil rights campaign Liberty with young people under Asbos in Brent, north west London. They argued that publicity would breach their human rights, but the case was lost.

Beccy Palmer, a youth worker based in the area, said, “Pictures of these young people from the Press Road estate were distributed in the area and on the internet.

“It’s a basic attack on their human rights and completely destroyed the young people and the community’s ability to deal with the situation and get over the Asbos and their effects.

“It’s about criminalising people and that doesn’t just affect the individual but the whole community. There were death threats to families and vigilantes turning up. People in desperate need of housing were turning down places on the estate because of the reputation it got.”

New figures also released last week show that the use of Asbos is rocketing. More than 3,800 Asbos have been dished out since they were first introduced in 1999—half of them to children.

But nearly 20 percent of the total number of Asbos were handed out in the three months between July and September last year, the last period for which figures have been released.

The new figures also show that Asbos are not working—the proportion of people breaching their Asbos has jumped from 36 percent at the end of December 2002 to 42 percent a year later.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation officers’ union Napo, says, “When Asbos were first introduced in 1999, it was thought they would be quite narrowly focused on certain types of annoying, persistent anti-social behaviour.

“But following government intervention in 2003, the number went through the roof.

“What’s happened is that now individuals are being Asboed where the original offence was not imprisonable, such as begging or prostitution, and young people are being Asboed for low-level anti-social behaviour that at the most would have merited a fine.”

The orders just prohibit certain types of behavior, but “do nothing to tackle the causes”, Fletcher argues.

Asbos are handed out after civil, not criminal proceedings, but breaching an Asbo can carry a custodial sentence of up to five years. “Scores and hundreds of people are going down,” Fletcher says, adding that under 21s are disproportionately represented among those jailed.

The home office last week emphasised that “hooligans” faced a prison term as the ultimate sanction for breaching an Asbo.

But the harsh reality behind Clarke’s crackdown was exposed just days before, when Kim Sutton—a 23 year old woman who has attempted suicide four times—was banned under an Asbo from jumping into rivers or onto railway lines. Now she faces jail if she breaks the Asbo.

Michael Tichelar, co-ordinator of Off the Record, a young people’s counselling service in Bath, says the Asbo imposed on Kim Sutton is “inappropriate”.

“If you see someone trying to commit suicide, your compassionate instinct would be to help them rather than think they are doing it to cause you alarm or distress,” he adds.

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Sat 12 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1942
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