As the prime minister announced a renewed drive to tackle
antisocial behaviour, critics have warned that young people are
being put at further risk of offending because of a failure to
address the causes of the problem, writes Maria
Unveiling new measures this week, Tony Blair pledged more help
for 50 “action areas” across the country, and powers
for councils to impose fines for offences such as littering and
The government’s first report on antisocial behaviour
showed that 2,600 antisocial behaviour orders have been issued
since their introduction in 1999 – a number that looks set to
increase with the introduction of the new measures.
Civil courts will also be given new powers to engage individuals
with drug problems under asbos in treatment, a measure home
secretary David Blunkett hopes will “close a gap” for
those who have not already entered the criminal justice system.
But while many children’s charities agree with such
measures to address the causes of antisocial behaviour, they
believe an increase in the use of asbos will do little to reduce
the risk of offending.
Policy officer for Rainer Chris Chaston said: “It is
worrying that the home secretary now calls for more moderate
councils to follow the lead of those handing out Asbos in such
abundance. With asbos being handed out at such a rate, one has to
ask what purpose they are serving. More than a third are being
breached and young people are being stigmatised without getting the
intensive, preventative support they need to change their
The Howard League for Penal Reform’s director Frances
Crook also criticised the government’s
“obsession” with antisocial behaviour, saying there is
“no need” for further legislation. She called for the
abolition of asbos for children.
Other campaigners expressed concerned about the
over-stigmatisation of young people in the government’s
report on antisocial behaviour.
War on young people
The report showed that Blunkett’s “war on
yobs” largely translates as a war on young people,
highlighting that those aged between 13-20-years-old were seen as
the biggest perpetrators of antisocial behaviour.
Teenagers “hanging around on the streets” who were rowdy,
blocking the street, using bad language or littering were seen by
the public as the main problem, particularly in deprived areas.
Announcing the report this week, Blunkett commended local
authorities and police for taking early action on offences by
imposing curfews for under-16s – a measure campaigners view
as highly controversial.
Human rights group Liberty are calling for an end to
“criminalising” under-16s for being out on the streets
and say such curfews were “simply unacceptable.”
Other children’s groups argue young people’s own
perceptions of antisocial behaviour can widely differ from common
definitions, undermining the findings of the government’s
Recent research conducted by young people in Liverpool on their
peer’s attitudes to antisocial behaviour found the majority
of those interviewed did not view “hanging around on the
streets” as an offence.
They also found teenagers did not see littering, swearing in
public, and playing football in residential areas as antisocial
Researchers from the Liverpool Youth Service engagement team
said many young people were caught committing antisocial acts
without realising they were doing anything wrong.
The government’s report also highlights that deprived
areas are more at risk from antisocial behaviour from young people,
but it fails to make the connection between poverty and offending,
A spokesperson for rehabilitation agency Nacro said the best
approach would be “engaging positively” with young
people who may be at risk of offending and addressing the
“root causes” of their behaviour.
Richard Garside, director of The Crime and Society Foundation, a
think-tank on progressive crime policy, added: “Singling out
often vulnerable individuals for special treatment, while doing
little to address their needs, is unjust and
Breaches lead to custody
The government is also failing to acknowledge the rise of young
people in custody due to antisocial behaviour laws, according to
Nacro’s head of youth crime Chris Stanley said: “The
number of young people in custody in this country has increased
dramatically over the past couple of years and this trend is set to
continue, at least in part because of the number sentenced to
custody for breach of asbos. With over 85 per cent of young
offenders already re-offending on release from custody, the future
does not look bright for young people who breach asbos.”
In May 2004, chair of the Youth Justice Board Rod Morgan, also
warned that there had been a rise in the number of children going
to prison as a result of breaches of abos.
ABCs and YIPs
In a more positive light, the government report highlighted that
around 5,383 Acceptable Behaviour Contracts have been issued in the
last year, a measure supported by children’s charities.
Rainer is calling for continued investment in similar
community-based approaches such as Youth Inclusion programmes,
mentoring and mediation schemes, and said asbos should only be used
“the last resort” when all other schemes have
Chaston said: “These benefit the whole community by
engaging with all its members and aim to instil a sense of
responsibility and belonging. A solution-based model should be
promoted as opposed to measures that focus purely on punishment.
That’s what prevents crime in the future.”