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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

ASBOS – do they work – or not?

A TOTAL of 110 adults and children have been splapped with ASBOs in south Cumbria over the last nine years. Do they work or are they simply seen as a badge of honour?
Crime reporter SUZANNE MURPHY investigates

COMEDIAN Linda Smith said: “Don’t knock ASBOs, it’s the only qualification some of these kids will ever get.”

Such children will, no doubt, be devastated to discover that the much-derided badges of dishonour are expected to be done away with in a forthcoming Home Office policy review.

Views are mixed as to if they work and, if scrapped, what they will be replaced with.

Barrow PC Pete Cargan has been in charge of anti-social behaviour orders in South Cumbria since they came into effect in 1998.

The first was issued to a Dalton schoolboy in 2002 and since then 110 have been handed out across the south of the county – 80 of those were in the Borough of Barrow.

The officer firmly believes they do work as the majority slapped with orders do not re-offend.

He also says it can stop many from reaching the criminal courts as they abide by the conditions of their ASBO and mend their ways.

The PC explained how, when dealing with persistent troublemakers, police exhaust up to 16 different options before finally resorting to applying for an ASBO through the civil or criminal courts.

He said it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly and involved a lot of work before it came before the courts.

PC Cargan said: “An ASBO is not a criminal conviction and can lead some people who have been given them to mend their ways. It’s really drawing a line in the sand. It only becomes a criminal matter if the order is breached.

“There have been reports that ASBO orders are continually being breached and so don’t work, but you need to look at the bigger picture. For instance, you have a youth who goes into Barrow town centre every night causing criminal damage. He or she is given an ASBO and, maybe, over the course of that first year they breach it twice. That’s two incidents compared to the seven or more incidents a week over a year they had been committing. Many people who do breach ASBOs don’t realise that once they have, it then becomes a criminal matter and they end up in the court system. This can often prevent them doing it again.

“We have all kinds of orders, such as restraining orders, football banning orders and prohibition orders and I am in favour of keeping ASBOs in some form or another.

“We need orders that can be tailored to individuals and it doesn’t really matter what they are called.”

He said they had proved highly successful in south Cumbria with the majority never going on to re-offend.

PC Cargan said: “I don’t know where it came from that ASBOs were a badge of honour. How can it be a badge of honour?

“How embarrassing must it be to go to court, have your picture in the paper and everyone knowing what you did and what you’re now not allowed to do?”

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock admitted that ASBOs has not been not been without controversy, but have helped the law-abiding majority of people re-take control of our communities.

He said: “Since Labour introduced the legislation in 1998, ASBOs have made a difference in some local cases to tackle the noise, harassment, intimidation and vandalism that have blighted our neighbourhoods.

“We will have to wait and see what the government’s proposals are and I would consider supporting plans to strengthen or make ASBOs more effective.

“But I would be wary about diluting or scrapping a system which has made a huge contribution to cutting crime.”

Barrow fire brigade boss and chairman of the town’s Crime and Reduction Disorder Partnership, Dave Coverdale, said: “The CDRP support the use of anti-social behaviour orders in Barrow. We are aware there has been some discussion at government level about simplifying the process. This may result in them being given a different name, but in essence they would be a prohibition order in the same way as the current anti-social behaviour orders. Such orders are a useful tool as they allow agencies to prohibit behaviour causing others harm and distress.

“This can be done without giving the perpetrator a criminal record.

“When applying to the courts for an anti-social behaviour order, it has to be demonstrated that agencies have tried every other means of rectifying the problem. This means that individuals receive a warning letter before an order is even considered.

“In Barrow this often fixes the problem and perpetrators cease to cause a problem for the community in which they live. There are instances where a warning letter or other low level intervention is not sufficient. It is at this point that an order can be applied for at the court. In the main, these orders are very successful and the CDRP are pleased that they will continue, whether that be under the same name or not.”

A Home Office spokesman said the government review into ASBOs was set to be completed in the coming months.

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