• Print
  • Email author
  • Bookmark and Share

"A generation of troubled youngsters 'criminalised'" by Sophie Goodchild and Andrew Johnson, The Independent (UK)

31st October 2004

Daisy is 17 years old, profoundly deaf and has been in prison for more than a month. Her crime was spitting in public, an offence which earned her an anti-social behaviour order - or ASBO - and subsequently a jail term.

The teenager is one of nearly 1,000 young people aged from 10 to 20 who have been punished with ASBOs over the past year. There are no exact figures, but as many as one in three children in youth jails are there for breaching an ASBO.

Lawyers, prison reformers and civil liberties groups now say the Government's anti-yob crusade is actually criminalising a generation of troubled youngsters and that Britain's jails are being filled by young people in breach of ASBOs.

But supporters of the reforms point to the huge successes brought about by the ASBO revolution, which they say has transformed the no-go zones that were blighted by "yob culture".

Magistrates can issue an ASBO for any behaviour which causes "harassment, alarm or distress", but the terms of the order can vary widely. ASBOs are civil penalties, but if the orders are breached the offender can face up to five years in prison.

Take the example of Camden in London, one of the ASBO hotspots which has issued 100 orders, most in just two years in a clampdown on drug addicts and street drinking. Silla Carron, who chairs the Clarence Way tenants' association in Camden, said an ASBO rid the estate of an addict who was using the estate's stairwells to use drugs after which he would defecate and vomit.

"It was very intimidating," she said. "One elderly tenant was in tears because she wanted to go out and get some milk but she couldn't because she was so scared.

"Because of ASBOs, where we had nothing we've now got something. It's about the community standing up."

Last week the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, trumpeted the use of ASBOs while announcing 50 communities across Britain which will get more help to tackle anti-social behaviour, including new anti-social behaviour response courts, plus extra funding.

But campaigners fear ASBOs are being pushed too far. Take Daisy's case. She ended up in prison because she ignored an order not to spit in public. Her instinctive response, when distressed, is to spit.

Her identity is not being revealed for legal reasons but the Howard League, which campaigns for penal reform, will use her case in cautioning MPs against a widespread use of ASBOs.

A total of 3,069 ASBOs have been handed out in England and Wales since they were introduced five years ago, 2,600 of these in the past year alone.

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

viewed here