Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why Theresa May is wrong about ASBOs

It is natural for a Socialist to be against ASBOs, instinctively all punitive measures smack of big brother and a failure to recognise the causes of crime.

We all want to be thoughtful and sensitive about the sh*t lives that criminals have lead that have brought them into a court. And so we are, by and large. Most criminal and anti-social behaviour is driven by poverty, drugs and alcohol, not by a satanic outlook, they don't desire to be bad.

And you don't want to start me off talking about some of the appalling ways that prisoners in our British prisons are treated, most of you would probably be glad and I would be as popular as midges on a summer holiday in Scotland if I stood up for them. So I shant go there tonight.

But I do want to talk about ASBO's and why they really do matter.

I think it was Hazel Blears who introduced the idea of ASBOs, she is not a popular politician any more but I think she got it spot on when she said that it was our people, Labour people, living in Labour communities that were suffering from the effects of anti-social behaviour. That it was time that Labour stood up for its own and took steps to stop this.

So what is anti-social behaviour? I think by definition it is behaviour that is not criminal, that is the first thing. It is not about drug dealing or burglary or GBH for instance. It is behaviour that blights lives but is not obviously dealt with by the criminal law system. So what might it involve? Very often involving neighbours (did anyone ever make that clear before I wonder?) it is about loud music, noise, shouting, excessive drinking, intimidation, swearing, urinating, bullying, throwing things, spitting, hurting animals, setting small fires, sitting on the step through the night with the ghetto blaster blaring, hurling abuse, threatening to hurt someone... and so it goes on.

An ASBO is not granted for a first offence of this type, or a second, or a third, or even a twentieth sometimes. It can be months and years of such abusive and difficult behaviour before someone is given an ASBO. Months and years of community members compiling detailed diaries and sharing them with the police or the local housing association. Months and years of numerous phone calls to the police, of disruption and upset with local people unable to sleep calmly in their own beds.

ASBOs are granted to all sorts of people, not just youngsters, although it is popular to think it is only young people that are so charged. Many adults are responsible, including pensioners.

And when the ASBO comes into place it forbids that person from going to certain places, from gathering in groups with others if that has been part of the behaviour, from intimidating their neighbours.

And our experience in Kensington has tended to show that where an ASBO has been granted, which limits the behaviour of an individual and expects only neighbourly activity from them, it does work. Streets calm down instantly. Sometimes, if the holder of an ASBO lives in social housing, they lose their home and are forced to live somewhere else, another reason why an ASBO can be a boon to a community.

A breach of an ASBO might be an isolated incidence of shouting or swearing, or throwing a stone. It might come months after a period of calm. Many holders of ASBOs are forgiven several incidents of lapsed behaviour before they are brought back to court for serious sanctions, but in the meantime the community has respite. Everything goes quiet.

To suggest that one lapse of behaviour, one breach of an ASBO after potentially hundreds of incidents of bad behaviour followed by a period of calm, is somehow a failure of the system, as Theresa May does, is to miss the obvious.

If you have committed 300 incidents of ASB and then get an ASBO and then you broadly behave yourself, and give respite to your neighbour, then you commit say half a dozen more over a few months before your breached ASBO is brought into a court, it is still a vast improvement on the previous months of hourly, daily mayhem.

Theresa May, I assume, lives in a nice quiet leafly cul-de-sac where no-one has a clue about ASB, she wont realise the wonderful period of calm that can follow the imposition of an ASBO or how small the relapse can be, compared to the earlier unchallenged behaviour, that leads the establishment to deem a breach.

Once a community has stood together to create an ASBO it is much stronger and ready to create reports demonstrating a breach. Even if half of ASBOs are breached, for a period of time each and every one in my experience has brought respite and breaches are jumped upon much harder by a strengthened and revitalised community than the initial behaviour ever was.

I am still waiting to hear what might happen to ASBOs that are still live should such things be scrapped. It is not a great thought!

Scrapping ASBOs is short sighted and I hope the ConDem Home Secretary will change her mind.


scouseboy said...

Especially when they have not offerered anything remotely constructive to take their place.

ASB Officer CM said...

Whilst I broadly agree with your comments about ASBO's, I strongly disagree with your interpretation that drug dealing, burglary and other criminal behaviour is not anti social behaviour.If a group of people are drug dealing on a regular basis at the end of your road, it is likely to attract other undesirables to the neighbourhood which will cause residents harassment, alarm and distress. Likewise a persistent burglar or car thief in the community will have a similar effect. These people are subject of frequent arrests for their criminal activity, but are not charged due to insufficient evidence. Which is where ASBO's can be effectively used to prohibit the offending behaviour and with the relevant support packages many offenders change their lives.

Louise Baldock said...

Hi ASB Officer. I think perhaps it is the way I worded it. I was trying to demonstrate that some people downgrade crime by dismissing it as ASB when it is is not. I am not disagreeing that other more obviously criminal behaviour could also be described as anti social, but those people should in my view be prosecuted for the criminal offence itself. I have no problem with using ASBs in any way that helps an area to quieten down and brings some respite - or helps criminals to change their lives. But in my view, burglars should be prosecuted for burglary. We should be able to work with the same community that help provide evidence for ASBOs to help provide evidence for criminal activity.