Anti Social Behaviour Problems In The Us Criminology Essay

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Anti-social behaviour has become an increasing problem in the United Kingdom; surrounded by a lot of media attention it has a lot of political capital when it comes to government affairs. Anti-social behaviour first became the focus of the New Labour Government in 1997 under the Blair administration with the famous slogan 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'.

This essay will explore one specific measure devised by the Labour government to address anti-social behaviour, and the problems it causes to our society. The measure this essay will focus on is the use of the anti-social behaviour order also known as the ASBO, which is how it will be referred to throughout the essay. The essay will begin by looking at a discussion topic relevant to anti-social behaviour orders and then it will critically evaluate each discussion topic. In total the essay will discuss three different topic areas and have three evaluations after each discussion.

Before looking at the ASBO it is important to consider what the term anti-social behaviour actually means. In legislative terms, anti-social behaviour is deemed to be behaviour that causes 'harassment, alarm or distress to one of more persons not of the same household' (Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, 2004). Although prior to the Crime and Disorder Act, much of this behaviour was dealt with, if at all, under the provisions of the Housing Act 1996, the Noise Act 1996, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, or the Protecting from Harassment Act 1997' (Newburn, 2002). The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 devised by the New Labour government received 'Royal Assent and the new remedy, which by now had been renamed from the Community Safety Order to the Anti-Social Behaviour Order, found pride of place in section 1 of the Act (MacDonald 2006). However The Home Office was slow to offer clarification of the ASBO and the typology was not produced until 2004.

The first point of discussion is based on the question, why should young offenders be concerned about ASBOs and what are the impacts on the offender? In England and Wales the use of the ASBO is widely used and 'issued to children even though less formal [or] more constructive forms of intervention would have been possible' (Macdonald and Telford 2007: 610). England and Wales have a two tier system of warnings and reprimands when it comes to young people committing criminal behaviour. Normally a reprimand is given for a criminal offence, however if the offence is deemed to be more serious, then a warning is given. 'This warning is designed to be a once only penalty, with prosecution normally following for a further offence' (Macdonald and Telford 2007: 610). 'An important feature of this framework is that the issue of a warning triggers the intervention of the local Youth Offending Team (YOT)' (Macdonald and Telford 2007: 610). It is then up to the YOT to decide what is best for the young offender, and they will asses the offenders needs to help divert the child away from the criminal justice process. However the use of the ASBO is completely different as this is a civil order and falls outside the system of reprimands and warnings. The main problem with the order in this case is that a young offender receiving an order bypasses the YOT, and therefore is not given the resources needed to help with their behaviour. A recent statement from the Home Affairs Committee stated, 'we were concerned to learn that Youth Offending Teams are not always consulted by those taking out an ASBO. We believe that they should be consulted as a matter of course before an application for an ASBO is made: not as a veto, but to ensure that sufficient thought has been given to support needs and to ensure that other measures are also taken if appropriate' (Macdonald and Telford 2007: 610).

The main concern and argument which arises from what I have just discussed is that the use of ASBOs criminalises non-criminal behaviour. There use is too often for behaviours that would not have been considered to be criminal before the governments clamp down on anti-social behaviour. Like what has just been discussed, instead of giving reprimands and warnings, young offenders are given an ASBO without any thorough thought process or help form the local Youth Offending Teams. Holland (2010) agrees by stating that the number of victimless crimes, rights being regarded as privileges, and ultimate prosecution of many thousands of individuals monthly that are brought into the court system without ever harming another individual is astounding. According to State Watch (2010), in the early 2000s the Labour government began to actively promote the use of ASBOs to all local authorities in England and Wales, even going so far as to organize 'ASBO ambassadors' to encourage their implementation. Authorities that reacted favourably and began to issue ASBOs on a regular basis, soon found that the vagueness of the government's definition as to what constitutes anti-social behaviour, could allow them to push the boundaries of their use beyond what was originally intended. This goes to show that the use of ASBOs can be widely used for many behaviours and activities as the government's definition of anti-social behaviour is general enough to cover a wide spectrum of behaviour. The act does not specify in more detail either the types of behaviour or the kinds of perpetrator that might warrant an ASBO being given. However, the inappropriate use of orders does not stop there. In August 2005 the British Institute for Brain Injured Children (BIBIC) detailed more than fifteen cases where children with Asperger's, Tourette's Syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were given ASBOs (State Watch, 2010), a clear example to the misuse of orders and the pushing of boundaries towards there use. In February 2007 again a BIBIC report found that over thirty per cent of youths receiving ASBOs had a diagnosed mental health disorder or an accepted learning difficulty. Many of these children could not properly understand the order they had been given and yet faced jail if they persisted in what was predominantly non-criminal behaviour such as staring over a neighbour's fence. (State Watch, 2010).

So from what has been looked at so far, it can be seen that ASBOs have a great effect on the individual, and that the governments push to tackle consistent antisocial behaviour is effecting those who commit less serious offences, or a first time offence becoming caught up in the governments ASBO net, and not receiving the help they would more greatly need.

This next part of the essay is now going to discuss the anonymity of young offenders who receive an ASBO, and the concern for disproportionate punishments. There are many complaints that ASBOs infringe defendants' human rights, especially when they are "named and shamed" in the media or through leaflets and posters.

Naming and shaming is a key concern and has a great affect on the offender as it violates traditional anonymity of young people. Is this right for young people to be named and shamed? There is also a concern for disproportionate punishments for breaches of an order like the possibility of custody for non-crimes, and sentences exceeding statutory offences. An example of this is prostitution. Before the ASBO a fine would be issued and that would be the end of the matter, when now an ASBO would be issued and if breached a prison sentence would be applied. The essay will now look at anonymity in more detail.

'Since the early twentieth century young people under eighteen involved in legal proceedings have been granted a degree of protection from the glare of media publicity' (Cobb, 2007: 342). This has been a somewhat controversial topic of recent reforms of the ASBO, and the calls from the Home Office for a reduction in anonymity right so that the details of individuals can be publicised. Action for Children believes the anonymity of under-18s should be protected in both civil and criminal cases, unless issues of public safety arise (Action for Children, 2008). They say that there is a lot of evidence that children and young people who have had their ASBOs publicised have been stigmatised in their communities, and that there is no evidence to support the idea that publishing personal details about a young person reduces their anti-social behaviour. Looking at a recent case is where the critical evaluations start. On Tuesday 23rd November 2010, a gang of boys were given anti-social behaviour orders for allegedly causing harassment, alarm and distress over many months to people on two different estates. A court order band the gang of youths from being identified which provoked outrage with locals. Editor Dave King, himself a former magistrate said 'It was always intended that the subjects of ASBOs should be identified so the public can know who they are and can effectively report any breaches of their conditions to the police (Wiles, 2010). Naming these youngsters is clearly in the public interest; however the rights of the child play an overwhelming role. There are many other cases where the offender or offenders have been protected from being named, which is a strong enough argument to show a downfall in the use of ASBOs in tackling anti-social behaviour. Although there is not enough evidence to prove that naming a person with an ASBO stops their offending behaviour, but increases stigmatisation within that persons community there's a feeling that a persistent offender should be named for the simple reason, its for the communities interest, so they can not stigmatise or degrade, but watch and look out for the person terrorising their society.

The final area of discussion is to look deeper into the ASBO and see whether or not they actually work. Many young offenders do not see the ASBO as an order but merely as a badge of honour, something which has become increasingly common since its introduction. Young offenders do not understand that if their order is breached then it can lead to serious consequences. Young offenders believe that by having the order it gives them status over their friends and within their communities. So is the ASBO working? It seems as though rather than tackling the causes of nuisance or offending behaviour, the preferred route appears to be to criminalise it, and risk further alienating young people from the community in which they live. The ASBO should be a deterrent from the behaviour that warranted it. It should then hopefully sink in that this behaviour will not be tolerated, but how can this behaviour be stopped by an order that if breached could see a young offender in serious trouble, well to my mind it does not, it does not help the offender with the problems they have and the behaviour authorities deem anti-social. Singling out young offenders from society can have a great effect on them, especially at such a young age.

From this discussion there are some arguments which help to clear up my opinion that ASBOs do not work. An ASBO is negative in nature and prohibits an individual from doing certain things rather than instructing them to achieve positive things, and thus does nothing to address the underlying causes of the offender's behaviour. Being given and ASBO can lead to eviction, social isolation and a criminal record if breached.

Research from the Home Affairs Committee found that 'young perpetrators of anti-social behaviour often suffer from serious disadvantages and social exclusion and have significant support needs' (Macdonald and Telford 2007: 610), the committee also concluded that 'the most important reason why almost half of all ASBOs are breached is the insufficient support given to perpetrators, who may have problems of addiction or of mental health, or may be living in chaotic families' (Macdonald and Telford 2007: 610).

The New Labour government were insistent that ASBOs worked in reducing anti-social behaviour, however if this was the case, why were they reluctant to sponsor evaluations and publish statistics. So why this reluctance? Is it that the statistics do not correlate to what the government are saying? Well looking at the statistics that were produced by the Home Office in 2008, there is strong evidence to suggest this. Greater Manchester is known as the ASBO capital, as this area of the UK saw a great number of ASBOs issued at the height of the government's policy to clamp down on anti-social behaviour. In 2005 the number of ASBOs issued at all courts in each Criminal Justice System in Greater Manchester, as reported to the Ministry of Justice by the Court Service came to 458. The number of ASBOs proved in court to have been breached for the first time in Greater Manchester was, 201 in the year of 2006. The total number of occasions on which ASBOs were proved in court to have been breached in the same year of 2006 was 1,071. This is a staggering amount which I feel shows that ASBOs are not working in this particular area. The orders are being breached and therefore not doing the job they set out to do which is to stop persistent anti-social behaviour. It is no wonder the government were reluctant to publish statistics when figures like the ones mentioned show a real issue with the breach rate of ASBOs. So why do people breach their order? One reason for this could be linked to the criticism for the duration the order is in force for. In England and Wales the minimum duration of an ASBO is two years, which is a long time for a young offender. Lord Justice Maurice Kay accepts that the order must run for two years however this does not mean that each and every prohibition must be endured for the whole two years. An example of this would be an ASBO that prohibits a young offender from contacting a certain person and visiting a certain area. Although the order will be in place for two years, one of these prohibitions could be dropped after review. It is no surprise to find that of the 466 orders made in the first two-and-a-half year's worth of ASBOs, fifty eight per cent were made on under eighteens, and a further sixteen per cent on young people aged eighteen to twenty one years (Campbell, 2002). For a young offender to be told they can not do something for two years must seem a harsh punishment. Young people today do not like being told what they can and can not do, and to have the court telling them they can not do certain things must give them a sense of reluctance to abide with their order.

In conclusion this essay has discussed and critically evaluated ASBOs as a measure devised to address anti-social behaviour. The essay has focused on three main areas of ASBOs. Firstly the essay looked at why young offenders should be concerned for the use of ASBOs and what the impacts were upon the offender. This started with a discussion of the criminal justice system involving warnings, reprimands and ASBOs. This led on to a critical evaluation of ASBOs in how they criminalise non-criminal behaviour.

Secondly the essay looked at the anonymity of youths that are given ASBOs and the concern for disproportionate punishments. This started by discussing anonymity and disproportionate punishment and later went on to evaluate these in more detail. Lastly the essay looked at whether or not ASBOs actually work which again started with a discussion followed by an evaluation which included some Home Office statistics to support the opinion.

From this essay I have learnt a lot more about the ASBO and its uses, and feel I have a greater knowledge after reading around the subject area in order to complete this essay. My overall view of ASBOs is that they are not working in reducing anti-social behaviour and that breaches of the conditions involved are far too high. The use of the ASBO has been in recent decline and with the changing in governments and new policies still in the making, we will just have to see what will become of the ASBO, and whether its uses will be good enough for the coalition government, or will they take a similar stance of looking at the negative effects of these orders.