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Baarsjes wants to criminalise youth

13 June 2007 - Arco Verburg, district chairman of de Baarsjes, argues for the introduction of Anti-social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) to protect the community from problem youth. However, British research suggests that the instrument may well be countereffective.

De Baarsjes made international headlines by introducing a ban on smoking cannabis in public, a measure that resulted in a displacement of problems to adjacent areas. Now Verburg wants to take a next step by introducing ASBOs.

ASBOs impose conditions on a person’s behaviour, for example prohibiting him or her to enter certain areas or to speak to certain friends. ASBOs require a lower level of evidence than full court orders; for example hearsay and anonymous evidence are admissible.

Last November, the first independent evaluation of the measure found that almost half the ASBOs are broken, making it doubtful whether the instrument is very effective. The orders are often unrealistic and youth who have been given ASBOs often do not clearly understand them.

Youth who breach their ASBO can be sent to jail, but if this were done consistently, the prison population would increase ‘enormously’, a judge commented. “So I think there are quite a lot of people breaching orders and not a lot happening to them when they do”.

In fact, ASBOs may well be counterproductive, for they are considered as a ‘badge of honour’. “Some of the friends are left out now because they’re not on an ASBO. I think they all want one. I know a boy that’s hellbent on getting an ASBO because he feels left out”, a mother said.

Critics say that ASBOs criminalise behaviour that is otherwise lawful and that they are used instead of preventative approaches. The evaluation indeed found that ASBOs are often imposed without considering alternatives.

Twenty-two percent of ASBOs are imposed on ethnic minority youth, which is two and a half times more than their share in the population.

Civil rights organisations have expressed concern about government attempts to use ASBOs against peaceful protestors. For example, ASBOs were imposed on activists who handed out leaflets outside Reed Exhibitions, an organiser of arms exhibitions.

Guardian, Statewatch


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