Human rights group Liberty yesterday condemned the huge increase in the number of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) issued as the government steps up its attacks on youth.
Liberty Director-General Sami Chakrabati said: ‘My concern is that this policy is in danger of getting out of control.
‘There’s too much concern on the number of ASBOs and a real danger of naming and shaming and degrading people, rather than genuinely tackling the underlying causes of crime.’
She was referring to the fact that 786 ASBOs were issued between October and December 2004, an increase of just over double the number issued in the same quarter in 2003.
Young Socialists National Secretary, Sanjay Kulkarni, stated that the Young Socialists were completely opposed to the introduction of ASBOs.
‘They are being used to criminalise young people and youth do not even have the right to defend themselves’ he said.
‘We are organising a series of marches throughout the country to protest at these new orders and to insist that the trade union movement takes action to bring them to an end,’ he added.
Liberty head of policy Doug Jewell meanwhile said that the organisation had ‘serious concerns that the use of Asbos may not always be appropriate’.
He said: ‘In particular we are concerned at the steep rise in the number of Asbos being issued by magistrates, and are concerned that this may be through government pressure and a view that Asbos are a cure-all solution.
‘The need to protect witnesses from intimidation is a real concern, but it should not be used in order to allow hearsay evidence against people.’
Liberty was also responding to further ‘anti-social behaviour’ measures announced by Home Office Minister Hazel Blears yesterday.
From 1 July, new ‘special measures’ provisions from the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, come in to ‘protect and support vulnerable witnesses’ in cases where they are seeking to implement ASBOs.
These will include screens in court, video links to enable the witness to give evidence outside the courtroom, and the use of intermediaries when communicating with the police.
There will also be the lifting of automatic reporting restrictions to allow the local media to give details of those who breach their ASBOs.
The Home Office also published figures showing the ‘vigorous take-up’ of ASBOs by local authorities, police and housing associations.
Statistics for the period April 1999 to December 2004 show that the total number of ASBOs issued stood at 4,649 at December last year.
The Home Office also announced that funding for Individual Support Orders (ISOs) for young people between the ages of 10 and 17 years of age will be increased by £500,000.
The Home Office statement said: ‘ISOs can be attached to an ASBO and direct the young person to activities and support to address the underlying causes of their anti-social behaviour.
‘This can include anger management courses, and alcohol and drug misuse programmes.’
Home Office Minister Blears said: ‘Anti-social behaviour is a menace for many people and it needs to be dealt with swiftly and effectively.’
She added that ASBOs are ‘just one of a whole range of tools’.
These extra ‘tools’ to crack down on working class youth, include ‘staged warnings, Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs), fixed penalty notices and parenting contracts’.
Deputy Prime Minister Prescott’s office also announced it intends to consult on enabling local authorities to contract ASBO functions to bodies to whom they delegate their housing management responsibilities.