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ASBOs: Coalition gets it right

ASBO graffitiLike Ken Clarke’s attack on the Michael Howard/New Labour bang ‘em up culture, Theresa May‘s indication that it’s “time to move beyond the ASBO”  is absolutely right. It’s embarrassing once again that it comes from a Tory Minister (not even a Lib Dem one) and that, as with prison policy, two former Labour home secretaries, Alan Johnson and David Blunkett in this case, leap onto the wrong side with both feet. The Tories may have played tough on crime in the election campaign, but they’re acting sensible.

The critical questions to ask in relation to ASBOs are:

  • are they effective in reducing anti-social behaviour?
  • are they effective in rehabilitating the offenders?
  • are they an acceptable limitation of civil liberties?

The answer to the first is that they are neither effective —  more than 55% of the 16,999 ASBOs issued between 1999 and 2008 were  breached — nor seen as effective — that’s why only 2,027 ASBOs were issued in 2008, fewer than half those issued in 2005. On rehabilitation, the statistics on breaches demonstrate that they’re widely seen as a badge of honour, and therefore “a conveyor belt to prison“. May is right to say of alternative measures:

Where possible they should be rehabilitating and restorative, rather than criminalising and coercive.”

On the civil liberties question, ASBOs have always been questionable, and Liberty‘s position is clear:

ASBOs can be served against children as young as 10. The only criteria that the magistrate must use in deciding to impose an ASBO is that the individual has behaved in a manner “that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”. Breaching the conditions of an ASBO is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. This means that individuals are being sent to prison for committing acts which may not be in themselves illegal. Liberty is deeply concerned about the way ASBOs are being used. If individuals are committing crimes of intimidation or harassment, then the criminal law should be used to tackle their behaviour. Increasingly, children and vulnerable people who need help and support are being served with ASBOs. We fear that this will create greater problems for those individuals and society.

If they’re not effective, the infringement of civil liberties cannot be defended. Nor does it inspire confidence that ASBOs have been applied in so many cases where criminal proceedings are a simple alternative, or in such bizarre cases as to prevent people dressing as schoolgirls or in low-slung jeans and to prevent a “militant atheist….from carrying religiously offensive material in a public place.”

"I let 80,000 criminals out early vote for me" with a picture of gordon brownWho are the progressives now?

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