When fear drives policy

By the government’s own admission, its latest plans to tackle
antisocial behaviour have nothing to do with rising crime rates
because, as a matter of fact, those rates have actually fallen by
more than a quarter since Labour came to office in 1997.

Instead, they have much more to do with people’s perceptions of
crime and particularly of the kind of small-scale street crime that
occurs in their own communities.

While people’s subjective fears cannot be ignored, it is doubtful
whether some of the home secretary’s proposals in his Respect
and Responsibility
white paper are a proportionate

Quite apart from the raft of punitive sanctions for beggars, rowdy
teenagers, and parents of truants – including housing benefit cuts
and fixed penalty notices – there is an expectation that a broader
group of professionals, including some working in local education
authorities and youth offending teams, will implement them.
Traditional tools of the care system, such as family support and
fostering, will be pressed into service to tackle anti-social

These measures will do much to stigmatise more youngsters as
criminals and little in reality to make our communities safer. If
we merely imagine that they are safer, we have paid too high a

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