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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 April 2006, 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK
Asbos 'demonising' young people
Police with yob
Professor Morgan questions reaction to teenage behaviour problems
Too many young people are being given anti-social behaviour orders and taken through court, the government's senior advisor on youth crime has warned.

Professor Rod Morgan, chairman of the Youth Justice Board, believes it could lead to some youths being "demonised".

He told the Independent on Sunday that alternatives to court action are better for some bad behaviour incidents.

Young person's charity the YMCA said some youths are being punished for what used to be called "high jinks".

Professor Morgan called for a radical rethink into how unruly teenagers are dealt with and said there are "adverse consequences to fixing the mark of Cain to a child's forehead".

He blamed "misplaced hysteria over teenage crime" and warned that the issuing of Asbos and taking young people through the court system could lead to labelling children, who then live up to their name.

However, his comments come as Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Observer that he wanted to "harry, hassle and hound" criminals into giving up or leaving Britain.

'Labelling effect'

Children were being sent to court for trivial offences such as swearing in the playground or breaking windows, Mr Morgan told the paper.

Instead, teachers and parents should be reprimanding them, and more use should be made of early prevention schemes such as dedicated police officers in schools.

"There are adverse consequences of fixing a mark of Cain to a child's forehead. We should not forget the lessons of the 1960s and 70s of the labelling effect. The argument is that if you give a dog a bad name then the dog may live up to the name," he told the paper.

There are a growing number of instances where incidents which used to be regarded as high-jinks or normal adolescent behaviour 15-20 years ago are being seen as criminal activity now
Ceri Davies, YMCA

Professor Morgan, who has been in post for two years, said there was also a danger that serious offenders who did need targeting would slip through the net.

Last month the Home Office revealed it had issued 7,356 anti-social behaviour orders in England and Wales since the scheme was introduced in 1999, the Home Office says.

Since ministers launched the Asbos initiative in April 1999, some 55% have been handed out to adults while juveniles have received 43%.

Alternative

The Independent on Sunday reports that more than 2,000 Asbos had been issued against children since 1999. Some young children had been given Asbos lasting up to 10 years.

Figures also showed that record numbers of children were being sent to court, although the actual level of youth offending had remained stable over the past decade.

Young person's organisation the YMCA agrees that alternatives should be sought to taking young people through the court.

Director of Programme and Learning Ceri Davies told the BBC News website: "The present incarceration of young people is slightly over-zealous.

"There are a growing number of instances where incidents which used to be regarded as high-jinks or normal adolescent behaviour 15-20 years ago are being seen as criminal activity now," he said.

He said the YMCA believes it is important to address the roots and results of crime, but that "a line should be drawn between normal adolescent behaviour and low level criminal activity".

He said instead of issuing Asbos and court punishment, education and support should be the alternative.

"Otherwise there is a danger of the young person entering a spiral of crime, which in later life shows itself to be difficult to break out from," he warned.



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