Yvonne Roberts: ASBOs are not working

The obsession with antisocial behaviour orders displayed by Louise Casey, the government’s respect “tsar”, means she is also in danger of forgetting that she is a highly paid civil servant – not a despot.

The Youth Justice Board’s first independent study into the effectiveness of Asbos warned that they are seen as a “badge of honour” by some young people. In addition, professionals, including magistrates, have serious reservations about how much they change behaviour for the good.

More than 7,300 individual Asbos have been issued since they were introduced in 1999, but 48 per cent of the under-18s had been returned to court for failing to comply with their order.

Nevertheless, the Queen’s Speech revealed that we are soon to have the “super-Asbo”, handing the police powers to use an Asbo to close premises. Asbos are not the only way to bring peace to terrorised housing estates, as Casey appears to believe. Youth offending teams – 155 in England and Wales – have a range of measures that, properly resourced, could work that miracle with less risk of criminalising the young person.

Casey, however, will brook no criticism. She dismissed the YJB report and insisted Asbos were working well and should be endorsed by YOT members. She also wondered out loud why YOTs hid their success stories like some “Dirty little secret”.

One reason might be that many YOTs believe that much of the constructive work they do with young people, those “dirty little secrets”, is undermined by the premature use of Asbos. The YJB study said that in seven out of 10 areas examined, YOTs had little or no involvement in decisions that led to Asbos being imposed.

Rod Morgan, YJB chair, has said that Asbos when used as a last resort can work well – but even then it was vital for YOT members to be involved. “Without [it], youngsters and their parents lack the support, advice and knowledge they need to comply with their Asbos.”

YOTs are also too busy dealing with the fall out from the contradictory impact of government policies while trying to keep up with the demand for measuring, monitoring and meeting national standards.

Of course, evaluation matters but where’s the sense if red tape takes up so much time it reduces the intense face-toface work that deals with antisocial behaviour properly? Also, where’s the sense in some councils closing down youth clubs and services only to redirect funds into combating antisocial behaviour?

Casey also fails to understand that if you demonise a section of young people and fail to include in the public debate the barrenness of their lives – often devoid of education, parental guidance, income, sport, hobbies and a sense of personal pride or value – then that makes it particularly difficult for YOTs to talk about successes.

This is because it involves the investment of taxpayers’ money. Remember a decade ago the furore over Bryn Melyn, a residential home that took young people on holiday – including an African safari – and gave them intensive support? “Holidays for hooligans” read the newspaper headlines.

At the time, Conservative health minister Virginia Bottomley demanded guidelines to ensure “wayward children do not feel rewarded”. A sentiment that is still with us.

Finally, Casey’s definition of “success” may not tally with that of many YOTs. She presumably wants the bad boy to rapidly become a model citizen. In the real world, where funding is erratic and sustainability for many projects a dream, success is a much more modest affair further undermined when a 15-year-old views an Asbo as a medal on his chest.

Yvonne Roberts is a writer and broadcaster

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