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Debate: Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOS)

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Should Anti-Social Behaviour Orders be scrapped?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alex Deane. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.

Background and Context of Debate:

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were introduced in the UK by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and have been available in England and Wales since April 1999. They were ‘reinforced’ by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003. The 1998 Act defines anti-social behaviour as behaviour that "caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household." They stop people from doing stated things or going to stated places. They last for a minimum of two years, but can last longer. Those given ASBOs can be ‘named and shamed’ in local media, and sometimes are. Orders have been granted for abusive behaviour, vandalism, flyposting, and harassment as well as more the more celebrated exotic problems such as elderly people incessantly playing gramophones. Whilst ASBOs are civil orders, criminal penalties can result from breaching them.

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Argument #1

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Yes

ASBOs address the symptom, not the condition. Their powers are wide and undefined – too wide, meaning that Judges and magistrates can do pretty much whatever they like. Certainly there are problems in the way people conduct themselves – but if such behaviour isn’t criminal, then it’s up to families and communities to fix it. The ASBO is the latest example of excessive state interference in the lives of citizens. Either conduct is criminal, or it is not. The law of nuisance exists. Restraining orders exist. ASBOs aren’t intended to deal with that kind of problem: they’re the tool of the state controlling behaviour. Just because a problem exists, doesn’t mean it’s the job of the state to try and fix it. The powers granted to the state in its efforts are disproportionate to the problems concerned.

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No

Something meaningful has to exist to punish actions that don’t merit criminal punishment, but damage the quality of life of others, especially through constant repetition. The ASBO is such a tool. It is intended to be the primary weapon in a ‘zero tolerance’ environment. ASBOs allow communities to take back their streets and estates from intimidating and out of control youths, and to establish proper norms of behaviour. In this way a slide into more serious lawlessness and criminality can be prevented, and the rights of the law-abiding majority to walk the streets and live peacefully with their neighbours can be secured.

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Argument #2

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Yes

ASBOs are explicitly intended to deal with bad juvenile behaviour. But they encourage rather than deal with such problems. They are viewed as badges of honour amongst young gangs – the ‘naming and shaming’ just increases this. They push people that could be helped by social work or proper attention into an unenviable category of ‘offender’ – they criminalise people for behaviour that isn’t criminal.

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No

ASBOs offer a wide flexibility to the sentencing authority as they are not only a punishment for past actions but also a form of restraint to prevent future misbehaviour. They permit the judge or magistrate to forbid the offender to go to a certain place, avoid a certain person, and ban them from participating in a particular activity. Without such powers, our courts will never be able to deal with the rising tide of yobbish behaviour that is, whilst not criminal, hugely damaging our communities.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Sentencing shouldn’t be affected by such considerations. If we need more prisons, we should build them. The point is that offenders should get the punishment they deserve. If they only need light punishment, fine – but don’t argue that those who should otherwise go to prison must get ASBOs for economic reasons – this is an affront to victims and to society and dilutes the disincentive to offend.

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No

The prison population is soaring and we have to find ways to keep it down, or at least slow the speed of its rise. Talking about crushing sentences for all may arouse the passions of a certain type of voter but we have to have a pragmatic look at the pressures on the system. ASBOs are one way to punish offenders while still ensuring they have continuing access to education, family support, job opportunities, etc., and they are much cheaper than the alternative of prison.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Over 40% of ASBOs are breached, with little resulting punishment. In the first three years of use, only 30 juveniles were imprisoned for breach of ASBO alone (omitting those occasions when people were sentenced for breach along with another offence). This brings the justice system into disrepute. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re breached – so people don’t care about getting them. Furthermore, they’re not granted in anything like the proportions needed to have an effect: 5,000 were supposed to be imposed every year, but instead only 3,800 were used in the first five years.

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No

Of course, some ASBOs fail. But no aspect of the justice system has a 100% success rate, and by their nature ASBOs are more likely to be abused because (unlike prison) the offender remains in his own environment. Should more in breach of ASBOs be punished? Sure. That’s not an argument against ASBOs though, is it? Neither is the fact that not enough are handed down. Although the use of ASBOs around the country is still patchy, some authorities have made very effective use of them to improve life in many local communities.

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Argument #5

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Yes

Newspapers are full of examples of absurd ASBOs. They make an ass of the law and show that the nanny state is overreaching. People trying to kill themselves really aren’t going to be put off by the prospect of breaching their ASBO.

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No

The wackier examples of ASBOs are actually demonstrations of what the order can do and other laws cannot. The woman who has an ASBO restraining her from jumping into rivers shows that the order can help with the thorny problem of actions that aren’t illegal, but place huge burdens on the emergency services and place the police and other citizens at risk.


Motions:

  • This House believes Anti-Social Behaviour Orders should be scrapped
  • This House believes that ASBOs have failed
  • This House would not use civil penalties against criminal acts

In legislation, policy, and the real world:

See also

External links and resources:

Books:

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