Alliance calls for review of Asbos

An alliance of voluntary sector and penal reform groups was launched last week to demand that the Government initiates a review of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

Asbo Concern, comprising organisations such as Liberty, the Howard League for Penal Reform and the National Association of Probation Officers, claims the orders have been misapplied since they came into force in 1999.

Rather than calling for their abolition, however, the alliance wants the Government to review the way in which the orders are applied. Matt Foot, a criminal defence solicitor and founder member of Asbo Concern, says that so far the Government has collated data on age and area but, oddly, not the anti-social behaviour itself.

Liberty campaigns co-ordinator Doug Jewell said he wanted to see the Government carry out proper research to support its pro-Asbo rhetoric.

"The Home Office is pushing out information saying Asbos are good at reducing crime," he said. "We have a concern that they merely displace activity."

But the alliance's key concern is that breach of an Asbo can result in a five-year prison term, when the banned behaviour itself would not have done so. It highlights one case in which a 26-year-old homeless man, who was banned from begging in Birmingham, breached his Asbo immediately and served eight months of a 24-month custodial sentence. A second breach on release got him a three-year sentence, even though he couldn't have been imprisoned for the original offence.

The Government's drive to 'name and shame' leads to victimisation of children and their families, Jewell added. There was also widespread concern at the type of behaviour Asbos are being used to control.

He gave the example of a female alcoholic who was sent to prison twice for breaching her order, rather than given treatment. "Alcoholism is a disease and you need treatment for it," he said. "You can bang people up for ever or you can give people help."

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