In this article we'll try to figure out what an ABSO (Britain's "Anti-Social Behavior Order") is, why and how it is applied to an individual, how it is intended to change the subject's behavior, and what the consequences of violating an ABSO means to its subject.
Since I'm an American, I cannot easily relate to an ABSO. I'm sure that The Brits understand what it is and how it works ... it's a cultural thing ... but I'm starting out with absolutely no background.
If you're not a Brit, perhaps you will find some value in exploring this uniquely Brit phenomenon.
I'm researching this online, so you won't have to do it. The results I display here (and I haven't yet done the research!) will be presented to you as I learn about the ASBO.
If you're a Brit, you probably already know more about this than I do. Perhaps watching my struggle to understand will provide you with some perspective of the difference between British and American cultures. I apologise in advance for my errors. If you really care, you may encourage my understanding by contributing a comment.
Wikopedia is an easy (if unreliable) starting point when researching any subject. Here's what they have to say about ASBOs:
In the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, acronym ASBO, pronounced /'æz.bəʊ/ (az-bo), is a civil order made against a person who has been shown to have engaged in anti-social behaviour. In the United Kingdom, this is defined as "conduct which caused or was likely to cause alarm, harassment, or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as him or herself and where an ASBO is seen as necessary to protect relevant persons from further anti-social acts by the Defendant".
Fair enough. We now know the kind of behavior which may result in the issuance of an ASBO, but we still don't know why (the specific circumstances), when or where it may be issued.
However, since the links may provide indepent verification, let's continue with Wikipedia's HISTORY of ASBO, if only to provide more context:
ASBOs were first introduced in England and Wales by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Later legislation has strengthened its application: in England and Wales this has largely been via the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, in Northern Ireland through an Order-in-Council. In Scotland, which has a separate criminal justice system, ASBOs were introduced for the first time in October 2004 by the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004. Scotland, however, has an existing tribunal charged with dealing with children and young persons who offend, the Children's Hearings System.
So much for background and history of the ASBO.
Here's the down side, according to the Economist in a Feb. 26, 2007 article:
... by adding many new and draconian laws to the statute book, Labour
has made the criminal-justice system unmanageable and, in some respects, worse at protecting the public.
Can this be true? By enforcing the law with a new tool, has Britain actually exacerbated the societal cost of dealing with its "Children and Young People who offend"?
One writer in the Economist (2005) suggests that the ASBO law doesn't just address 'anti-social behavior' as demonstrated by juveniles and teens:
Over the past decade, anti-social behaviour—hellish neighbours, beggars, teenage gangs—has become a big worry in Britain (see article). Rightly or wrongly, people think that drunkards and beggars are more aggressive these days, that teenagers are more threatening and that bad children have got worse. Explanations vary, with some blaming 1960s liberalism and others 1980s individualism. But all agree that the normal remedies for dealing with neighbourhood tyrants are not up to the task. The police lack the time to collect evidence; witnesses are too scared to testify; wrongdoing is difficult to prove; and sentences are too mild.
In response to such difficulties, the government has created a new set of legal tools. Chief among them is the anti-social behaviour order, or ASBO. This is a list of restrictions tailored to an individual offender that can now be obtained either in a civil hearing or following a criminal conviction.
Troublemakers as young as ten years old can be barred from entering neighbourhoods, ringing doorbells, using public transport and mobile phones or even uttering certain words for a minimum of two years. Securing an ASBO is easy. Hearsay evidence, for instance, is admissible in court. The consequences of stepping out of line are weighty: a maximum of five years in prison for doing something that is not necessarily an offence in law. Not surprisingly, such a powerful weapon is popular: more than a thousand ASBOs were handed out in the first half of 2004.
That delights MPs, who were sick of hearing stories from their constituents about local teenagers who have terrorised the neighbourhood by blasting music, breaking windows and spitting at passers-by. Prosecutors and the police are also pleased. Their powers to deal with low-level offences used to be weak. Now they are so draconian that they undermine the principles on which the criminal justice system is built.
That may be the perception of The Economist, but what was the ASBO really mean?
Well, here's the perception of a Maldene:
ASBOs prevent the offender from committing specific anti-social acts or going to certain areas or even prevent somebody from associating with certain other known and identified people as well. The anti-social behavior process is person-focused rather than event-focused. An ASBO lasts for a minimum of two years and its violation is a criminal offence, for which a maximum of five years can intervene.
Acts falling within the following families are considered as anti social behavior and therefore subject to ASBOs. Noise from neighbors and vehicles; loud music; persistent alarms; shouting; swearing; street fighting; hooliganism; urinating in public; throwing stuff at people; climbing on buildings; loitering; pestering residents; abuse cards in phone booths; inappropriate sexual conduct; joyriding; racing cars; false calls to emergency services; games in restricted/inappropriate areas; making threats; verbal abuse; bullying; following people; pestering people; voyeurism; sending nasty/offensive letters; obscene/nuisance phone calls; graffiti; damage to shelters, phone kiosks, street furniture, buildings, trees; dropping litter; and dumping rubbish.
Okay, so that's one man's opinion. But what does it MEAN?
Crimeinfo.org.uk has a 'fact sheet' which purports to define the terms, but it only deals with 'youths'. Are adults subject to being served with an ASBO?
The "Home Office" offered some more information, including that ASBOs may be served on non-juveniles, and even offers the opinion that "ASBOs Work" (although it's still difficult to determine what that means.) And there are some disturbing announcements by the Home Office secretary about several issues, ASBOs included in a 2006 letter.
But can I find the actual LAW which defines ASBOs, their application and the consequences of defying an ASBO?
No, I can not.
I'm tempted to just write it off as an uniquely "Brit Thing", but I find no comfort in this abrogation of responsibility.
I'll continue to research ASBOs, and when I find some concrete information I will share it with you here.
In the meantime, I consider it significantly uncomforting that a measure designed to combat British social unrest is so poorly documented.
More later, as I find time to research the subject.
And if anyone can find a copy of the laws which support the ASBO phenomenon in Great Britain, I would appreciate your efforts to provide this information.
David, the ASBOmonger?