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ANTI SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR STRATEGY CRITICISED BY CRIME CHARITY

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Commenting on today's anti-social behaviour implementation strategy launch*, Keith Towler, director of crime reduct...
Commenting on today's anti-social behaviour implementation strategy launch*, Keith Towler, director of crime reduction at Nacro said:

'It would be churlish to deny that anti-social behaviour is anything but a serious concern warranting close and careful attention. But the government's strategy is limited. It is limited by a heavy-handed and unnecessary emphasis on enforcement and punishment. And it is limited by its own clumsy definition of what it actually takes anti-social behaviour to be.

'It is difficult to see how implementing such a one size fits all strategy can most effectively achieve its desired goal. The Anti-Social Behaviour Bill currently before parliament covers over 60 types of offence. Some of these, such as firearms and drugs offences, are crimes pure and simple and ought to be treated accordingly. Others, such as the measure aimed at dispersing groups of children congregating in public places, risk criminalising behaviour that at most could be said to be undesirable, that in many circumstances might actually be entirely innocent.

'In using the full weight of the criminal justice system against people who have committed no criminal offence the government risks stigmatising them and risks damaging community relations.'

Commenting on other measures to be piloted in 'trail blazing' areas of English cities, Mr Towler said:

'The penalties against nuisance neighbours may do much to bolster the government's tough on crime reputation, but they are at the expense of the sort of proactive measures that have proven to be effective in preventing these sorts of problems arising in the first place. Enforcement is useful as a means of last resort, not as a first port of call.

'Similarly, in making begging a recordable offence the government risks exacerbating the underlying causes rather than tackling them as a priority. It is of no benefit to any of us if to all intents and purposes society places these individuals and families beyond the pale.'

Today Nacro also published 'A balanced approach to anti-social behaviour', a good practice briefing highlighting effective and preventive ways of tackling the issue.

The report argues that the anti-social behaviour strategies that work best are those that combine enforcement elements such as ASBOs with a comprehensive range of community prevention programmes and individually-focused education and mentoring initiatives.

Mr Towler said:

'We know what works best in countering anti-social behaviour. It is positive work within the community, supported by government, aimed at the root cause of the problem. It is about socially-based answers to socially-based problems. It should not be about blurring the boundary between what are essentially civil issues and what are criminal justice issues.'

* (see LGCnet).

Notes

The Anti Social Behaviour White Paper was published in March 2003, after an unusually short consultation period. It came only daysafter the Green Paper was published, raising concerns over the Government's commitment to its own open government guidelines.

Legal opinion sought by a consortium of children's charities and Nacro from Anthony Jennings QC of Matrix Chambers stated that group dispersal powers potentially breached the 1998 Human Rights Act on articles 5, 8, 10 and 11. Other parts of the Bill sit at odds with the Children's Act and could pose problems for the Government in the light of the 1991 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which the UK is a signatory.

Sports facilities and other activities aimed at young people are cited in 'a balanced approach' as a way of building bridges with disaffected young people and provoding them with a better sense of community responsibility. Nacro's youth activity and inclusion projects work in some of the most socially and economically disadvantaged areas of the country. Working in partnership with local communities and statutory bodies, these projects divert young people from anti-social and offending behaviour, by providing opportunities for involvement in positive and enjoyable activities, including work towards recognised awards. Currently, Nacro has over 50 youth activity and inclusion projects across England, working with at least 15,000 children and young people aged 8-16 years. Projects are very much community based, and these 50 projects have recruited, trained, and supported over 500 local people as volunteers to provide these activities.

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