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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 02:25 GMT
Can anti-social behaviour be curbed?
Wardens patrolling street
More civilian street wardens may be needed

Will the government's plans for cracking down on anti-social behaviour actually work in practice?

That is the question being asked by some of the professionals who work with young people who find themselves in trouble with the law.

While accepting that the move may be popular with the public, they see real difficulties ahead.

Anti-social behaviour is undesirable and unpleasant, but it is not always criminal

Rachel Armitage

And some believe that the measures will have little impact on the kind of low-level crime that afflicts many areas.

The probation service union Napo is one organisation that has already voiced doubts about the wisdom of the government's approach.

"I think it is fraught with difficulties," says Harry Fletcher, the union's assistant general secretary.


"This crackdown will have resonance with the public, as Labour has been told by its focus groups.

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Tackling crime is one of his priorities
"But research has shown that a beat bobby is unlikely to bump into someone in the act of crime more than once every three years.

"So how on earth is it to be enforced?

"You will have to employ thousands and thousands of civilian wardens to catch these people.

"Those people dropping litter and writing on walls are less likely to pay fines. That means you would also need a fine enforcement service."

The crime reduction charity Nacro has just published research into the effectiveness of one of the government's existing measures, the anti-social behaviour order (Asbo).

It says the order is "cumbersome, costly and difficult to enforce".


It discovered that the average Asbo cost more than 5,000 to enforce and took over three months to obtain.

It is fraught with on earth will it be enforced?

Harry Fletcher

And more than a third of the orders were breached within the first nine months.

The charity argues that what is needed to counter such behaviour is a more holistic approach, combining enforcement with preventative initiatives tailored to local conditions.

It wants to see the use of "acceptable behaviour contracts" and parental control agreements, along with youth schemes providing youngsters with activities and mentoring.

The report says one problem is the lack of a clear definition of what constitutes anti-social behaviour.

The result, it says, is confusion among local authorities over how to identify and respond to the problem.


What might be seen as "anti-social" in one setting might be regarded quite differently elsewhere.

Dr Simon Bale
Dr Simon Bale: Finding reasons for bad behaviour
"Part of the problem is that while anti-social behaviour is undesirable and unpleasant, it is not always criminal," says Nacro's Rachel Armitage.

"Anti-social behaviour orders can work, but they undoubtedly work better if they take into account local circumstances.

"They can only ever prohibit behaviour. We must also realise that there are pro-active ways for communities to prevent it from arising in the first place."

Nacro suggests that local authorities should adopt their own statutory definitions of anti-social behaviour in consultation with local people.

In Bristol, an organisation called Active Communities Together is working with local residents to improve conditions in areas that have suffered from a variety of social problems.


Dr Simon Bale, a volunteer with the group, also points to the problem of defining anti-social behaviour.

The Bill focuses on the punishment of children, without addressing the wider issues

Penny Dean
Children's Society

For generations, he says, young people have hung around on street corners, without necessarily causing trouble.

"Now it is seen as a bad thing," he says.

"We need to be more creative than just telling them off. It is important to tackle problems of anti-social behaviour, but we need to find the reasons behind it."

The Children's Society has also questioned the government's approach to the problem, suggesting that the new measures would fail.

"We are concerned that the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill focuses on the punishment of children, without addressing the wider issues," says Penny Dean, director of children and young people.

"The government needs to look again at how services are provided to children and families who require support, before problems escalate and children are drawn into the criminal justice system."

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