Illusion of achievement

The news that record numbers of antisocial behaviour orders are
being issued is hardly the huge achievement the Home Office is

That the orders criminalise behaviour which formerly would have
been deemed irritating, irresponsible or even simply “high jinks”
is not in doubt. Nor is the fact that the term “antisocial” is so
broad as to be meaningless. “Louts” can now be banned from wearing
a balaclava, riding a bicycle or showing off their tattoos.

In fact, rather than giving communities the power “to enforce
respect on the streets”, the vast number of Asbos simply reflects
badly on a government whose mantra used to be “tough on crime,
tough on the causes of crime”. They are undoubtedly being tough on
antisocial behaviour. It is their progress on the causes of
antisocial behaviour which is in doubt.

About three-quarters of Asbos have been imposed on under 21s
and, as 35-45 per cent of these are breached, more young people are
coming to the attention of youth offending teams. As many of these
young people could well have emerged from a difficult adolescence
to become model citizens, unnecessary early contact with youth
justice – or custody – is no good thing. For those who need the
intervention, individual support orders are supposed to tackle the
underlying causes of their behaviour. But lack of funding prevents
overstretched youth offending teams offering much back-up.

Furthermore, there is meagre evidence that this new blitz on
antisocial behaviour is having any lasting effect in the
communities worst affected. Yet the government remains staunchly
committed to tackling the scourge of balaclava wearing, bicycle
riding and tattoo displaying on the streets. When courts proved
reluctant to use the newly introduced Asbos, they were prodded into
action by successive government edicts. Now the Home Office has
announced academy action days as part of the Together campaign,
when antisocial behaviour “experts” will indoctrinate local

Anyone who has watched from behind a net curtain as a group of
teenagers smashed someone’s property to bits will sympathise
with the government’s desire to make them all feel very
contrite indeed. But does the answer really lie in a life ban on
hammer ownership?

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