ASBO or Anarchy?
counterbalance doesn't usually include the thoughts of others on these pages. We unashamedly and openly provide a very personal perspective. But from time to time we come across something exceptional, and recently we found one. A friend passed on an article from the "Fylde Villager" - a magazine circulating in the rural parts of Fylde. It was an article by a chap called Howard Clemmow headed "ASBO or Anarchy" We read it, and simply couldn't disagree with a word of it. We thought you might enjoy it too, so courtesy of Howard, please read on........
Usually I am woefully behind the times on what things teenagers are interested in but recently I thought I'd finally got a handle on it. Teenagers like the following things: trainers that are visible from space with the naked eye, mobile phones that double up as iPods and film studios, cheap clothes with expensive labels, bad music! But now there is a new, must-have accessory for those that wish to be king of the `hood - the ASBO.
To an extent I can understand it. In six years they've only managed to hand out 7,356 ASBOs and I imagine that Nokia churn out that many handsets in a day; an ASBO has rarity value. Also, anyone with twenty quid in their pocket can get a mobile handset off a bloke in the pub, but to get an ASBO you have to be consistently bad for quite a long time. But what exactly is an ASBO, other than the natural progression from nicking the badge off a
V.W. and hanging it on a chain round your neck?
Well, they were created as a panacea to the continuing disintegration of society, predominantly within our cities. They were intended to tackle (as the name suggests) antisocial behaviour; things like threatening behaviour, underage drinking, car crime, criminal damage and prostitution. And straight away I have a problem with this. Firstly, I struggle to think of any crime that isn't antisocial in its implications - even blagging wages vans is antisocial in that it's apt to cause traffic jams. Secondly, all of the above were already criminal offences before the ASBO was even a twinkle in David Blunkett's eye.
Anyone who is given an ASBO is forbidden to do whatever it is they were doing to be given it in the first place for at least two years; there is no upper limit. If they breach the -ASBO they can be sent to prison for up to five years. Sounds like a brilliant idea but.... hold on a minute .... isn't that what suspended sentences are supposed to be about, and they've been around since the ark.
Imagining that ASBOs are just a sexed up version of a suspended sentence though, is a dangerous assumption indeed. A suspended sentence can only be dished out by a magistrate or a judge. Anyone from a police officer to a housing association landlord can request that an ASBO be handed out, and in 99.2% of cases they are. Anyone over the age of 10 can be given an ASBO, sounds a trifle young to me. Finally, ASBOs can also be given for things that are not currently criminal offences, stuff like noise nuisance, harassment and verbal abuse. The reason that these things are not offences is because it is impossible to define at what level they become an offence. Personally I think that ringing church bells on a Sunday morning counts as noise nuisance but I'm sure that the majority of vicars wouldn't agree with me.
In short, ASBOs ride roughshod over legal precedent that we have fought wars to protect - but strangely no one seems to have noticed.
Most damning of all; they don't work. According to a recent report 40% of ASBOs are breached. This is an out and out lie. The truth is that 40% of people who are given ASBOs are caught breaching them. If you consider that the overall detection rate for crime is around 25% you can safely assume that virtually all ASBOs are breached. Happily, only 30% of the ASBO breachers are put in prison. What do they do with the rest of them? Give them another ASBO I suppose.
The Sex Pistols advocated anarchy in the UK. Given the choice between that and an ASBO I'm with the Sex Pistols every time.
Howard Clemmow is an editorial writer for The Fylde Villager, a free magazine delivered to homes in Kirkham Clifton Newton and Salwick.
Dated: 1 February 2007