Youth groups, civil liberties campaigners and concerned parents have all argued that anti-social behaviour orders or ASBOs have the effect of ‘criminalizing the young’. ASBOs, New Labour’s initiative to clampdown on ‘yob culture, can be served against children as young as ten years.
The 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’, and that the order is necessary to stop the behaviour recurring. Breaching the conditions of an order is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. The Government said that ASBOs would only be imposed on children ‘in exceptional circumstances’ but (according to the campaign group Asbowatch) more than four in ten orders have been imposed on young people aged less than 17 years old. Many have been imposed on children with special needs. A study by the British Institute for Brain Injured Children found that up to 35% of young people with ASBOs had a mental disorder or learning difficulty. Anyone who gets an ASBO can be publicly ‘named and shamed’, in other words your photo and personal details can be distributed by leaflets, posters and on the Internet.
Ministry of Justice figures released in early 2011 revealed that the number of ASBOs issued by the courts fell to only 1,671 in 2009, ‘confirming the year-by-year decline from a peak of 4,122 in 2005, when the Blair government launched its biggest drive against antisocial behaviour’. The statistics suggested that local authorities and the police had ‘come to regard the ASBO as a blunt instrument’. The home secretary, Theresa May, announced her intention to kill off the ASBO is October 2010.