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The trouble with an ASBO

May 18 2009
Many may agree with the use of ASBOs to stamp out violent and noisy behaviour, but the perils of an ASBO once enforced are manifestly unfair. Because breaching an ASBO is punishable by up to five years in prison, a lengthy custodial sentence could be awarded for activities such as urinating in the streets, begging, sitting by a cash point, drunken behaviour or even entering a proscribed borough.

None of these offences alone warrants a custodial sentence, but under the terms of an ASBO, they may lead to one.

Some readers may applaud this hard line on "trouble makers" and take comfort in the fact they are usually only given to relatively hardcore and persistent offenders. But their use is on the increase, particularly among the homeless. Those homeless people who street drink, use drugs or beg are most likely to come into contact with ASBOs.

There is a danger that the use of ASBOs without a determined complementary programme of support, may just serve to further marginalise those most in need of help. A street drinker is an obvious target for an ASBO, particularly if he or she frequents specific areas and is abusive. If the ASBO is breached - as is likely if the street drinker is addicted to alcohol and has nowhere private to drink it - it is very possible they will be imprisoned. Prison services are not currently geared to treat addiction. The Prison Reform Trust Factfile states: "There is currently no specific ring-fenced accredited alcohol treatment programmes with ring-fenced funding in prisons in England and Wales."

In his white paper, Respect and Responsibility - Taking a Stand Against Anti-Social Behaviour (March 2003), the (then) Home Secretary wrote passionately about no longer tolerating the intimidation and harassment from which so many communities suffer. He discussed the "need for a cultural shift from a society where too many people are living with the consequences of anti-social behaviour, to a society where we respect each other, our property and our shared public spaces."

Few would disagree with this vision. But a review of ASBOs by the Home Office in 2002 found that in over 60 per cent of cases, the people they targeted suffered from mental illnesses, addiction or learning difficulties. That does not excuse anti-social behaviour, but does suggest more complex methods are needed to handle it.

If you need advice about ASBOs and your rights, contact Citizens' Advice.