The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Bye-bye ASBO. What Next?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 29, 2010 @ 12:29

I like it.

Theresa May is making it very hard for me to dislike her at the moment. She’s always been a rather “Mheh” person in politics. Not really anything much. Not really interesting, not totally dull as to make you want to tear your ears off, but still, very mheh.

Though maybe her idea for democratising the police force is not a good one, I do like the sound of getting rid of the ASBO and replacing it with something else. What that something else is no one really knows yet, but my humble suggestion is the Acceptable Behaviour Contract.

Now, the thing that I dislike most about ASBOs, however useful they may have been, is that they are a way of dealing with problems in such a way that it has allowed the police a get out of jail free card, if you pardon the pun. Invariably, people mention anti-social behaviour, and what they’re actually talking about is low level crime.

The problem for the police is that these days they aren’t very much interested in broken windows, neighbourly disputes going bad, a public disturbance and low-level drug and alcohol abuse that provides annoyance to people but doesn’t really threaten the public. But in most of these cases, the criminal law has been breached, and a prosecution could be secured, if only they could get the evidence.

And the police just don’t have the time any more, with their myriad responsibilities, to be sitting on a stake-out all night so they can get the necessary evidence to nick a few people for some public order offences committed at 3am whilst stumbling down the street at 3am.

Step forward the ASBO. ASBOs allow any citizen and their dogs to submit “evidence”, which may or may not be anything more than tittle-tattle, gossip, rumours, and hearsay. The evidence is then compiled by neighbourhood officers, who stick it in front of a magistrate, and if the cap fits, the order is granted. There may be very little real police involvement.

A few months later, the police only need to find a tiny breach of the order, i.e. a repeat occurrence, and jail time could soon follow, because breach of the order is itself a criminal offence. The normal process of proper evidence is thus circumvented. Job done.

Except it’s not. This whole process has allowed the police to be bystanders in our communities. And, in truth, with cutbacks, it’s only going to get worse.

The most odious aspect of ASBOs is the use of them to criminalise behaviour that would not normally be an offence. This is particularly true of children, where ASBOs are often granted for kicking balls against a wall, or just meeting in a group. Yes, no good may come of such events, but turning children into criminals when we should actually be engaging with them, keeping an eye on them, and parents should be making sure they don’t get into trouble, would be far more productive.

The problem is all this takes time, money, effort, conscience, and a new community ethic from people frequently living in areas that are so run-down that just nobody cares any more.

Such is modern life.

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3 Responses to “Bye-bye ASBO. What Next?”

  1. There are 19000+ ABCs and no one has any real idea of how they are being used. Fair Play for Children is concerned however when we see clear cases such as:

    + child told if s/he does not sign parents will lose tenancy (and become “intentionally homeless”)
    + no evidence or access to evidence supplied
    + children not represented at hearings which usually are run by housing officials and police officers
    + children told that professional witnesses will be employed if they do not sign
    + children made to sign up to some unreasonable demands such as not hanging round with more than six other children

    Not saying good practice ABCs may not have a place but all too often we fear kids may be subjected to kangaroo courts not proper treatment. A girl of 11 told me when she was asked that she did not understand why they wanted her to sign an ABC. Why did she sign? “Because mum told me they’d take our home if I didn’t”. A police officer, when I asked him what two boys had supposedly done wrong: “It’s not a question of wrong sir, it was anti-social behaviour” but no explanation of what that was. To the boys or myself. But he was insistent they must sign, almost on the basis if you do then we won’t have to chase you. Confused boys? Rather. Me too. Before someone latches onto ABCs as the next wonder cureall, let’s see what has been the practice to date, are kids getting a fair deal re ABCs? The jury is out I have to tell you. By the way, all ABCs contain a clause that if the signatory breaches the ABC the next stage can be an ASBO, and after that jail and/or fine. For a child of 11 to read ….

    • Thank you for your informative comments. My main reason for suggesting the ABC was the fact that it’s a much better way of bringing the parties together in a slightly less criminal law focused process. It also gives us much more opportunity for proper restorative justice conferences to take place.

      However, your points are interesting. Perhaps the problems you describe stem more from the fact that the existing ASBO system is being used to threaten people regarding ABCs. And threatening people has absolutely nothing to do with RJ, which is where we should really be aiming.

  2. You may well be right for the current end-game for the ABC = asbo. What will happen when that stick is removed. Fair Play does not oppose ABCs per se, we can see how they might be well-used (and RJ is a perfect partner of course).

    If an ABC is a contract and not coercion then we need a clear framework of law for their use not the “it’s not really a lawful contract” line used to explain why there are no regulations governing their use. What we may well do is approach the government to start discussion about creating that framework.

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