ANALYSIS: I read with dismay the latest government proposals regarding the so called ‘streamlining’ of anti social behaviour orders (Asbos), and the proposed powers to put power to force the police to act against such behaviour in the hands of the ‘victim’, writes Kim Evans.
This, of course, comes in response to the outcry when police failed to act on behalf of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter following a campaign of bullying. You can read about that story here.
I say dismay, because Asbos didn’t work, (see here) and the new proposals are just going to compound the issues and make them a whole lot worse, leaving the police even less time to do what they should be doing to help communities, and the government to spend more cash on incarcerating children when it should be educating them.
- You can read about Theresa May’s proposals HERE
The problem with Asbos is that they target kids. Easy to get and easy to apply, kids with Asbos were sitting ducks. At one period during my time as a police station lawyer I was called out every single night of the week, every week for a group of kids with these orders.
These kids, all from poor, single parent backgrounds, excluded from school and sometimes with one or even both parents in prison were subject to conditions which prevented them from associating with each other, from entering ‘exclusion’ zones, and from committing acts such as throwing stones, or other behaviour which caused harassment, alarm or distress. Don’t get me wrong, these boys were out of control and behaved appallingly, but usually there was a good reason for why they behaved as they did (and I’ve written about it before here).
The boys were in my view ‘set up to fail’ with such orders. Their ‘gangs’ were their family and their support network. It’s hard for most of us to begin to imagine the living conditions of the children of drug or alcohol addicted parents, parents for whom the next fix is not only more important than feeding their child, the child isn’t even a thought. Is it any wonder that such kids prefer to hang around on street corners with each rather than stay in their homes being subjected to such treatment, and is it any wonder that when given an order not to associate with each other, they break it?
The repeated cycle of arrest, being placed before the court for the breach, and released on the same conditions as before (an Asbo runs for a minimum of 2 years) doesn’t do anything to change their behaviours, it just entrenches their attitudes of distrust of authority. And remember, these orders are designed to be a prevention, not a punishment, but the end result is that they are the harshest punishment of all because they seriously curtail day-to-day living, with exclusions, curfews, and non association clauses.
A form of social cleansing
My fear in relation to the latest proposals is that they have the potential to act as some kind of social cleansing. If five households complain to police, or one person complains three times, the police will be forced to act against the person or persons complained of, and, as Theresa May boasts, an order can be obtained within hours.
Can you see the potential for abuse there? I can. What chance would the uneducated, the mentally unwell, and simply the poor have against a vociferous campaign group intent on using their ‘right’ to force the police to assist in ridding their neighbourhood of troublesome kids. The amount of money spent on policing, arresting and putting them before the courts must be huge. But it’s such a dreadful waste of money because there can be no good outcome. Yes, the public may be protected from them for short periods, but I would wager money that the children of today’s Asbo-bearers have a really good chance of going down the same road. Isn’t it time to bring back youth clubs? Positive role models who can help change behaviours, and maybe save at least some kids for the future. Address the root cause of the problem Ms. May, don’t just take a great big stick to it, please.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award