Coalition tensions over use of detention for teenagers believed to have delayed measures that will replace Labour’s asbos
Tensions within the coalition are believed to have delayed the introduction of a more “punitive” regime to tackle antisocial behaviour and replace Labour’s discredited asbos.
The home secretary, Theresa May, is to confirm in a criminal justice white paper published on Tuesday that she wants to press ahead with proposals first outlined 15 months ago to replace the current alphabet soup of 19 different powers, including asbos, to tackle antisocial behaviour with a streamlined regime.
She also hopes to introduce a “community trigger” giving the public the power to demand the police take action if a complaint over antisocial behaviour is made by five or more households – a measure first floated by Labour’s Hazel Blears when she was police minister in 2005.
The home secretary has confirmed that she wants to introduce a radical overhaul of measures to tackle antisocial behaviour including plans to replace Labour’s asbos with new criminal behaviour orders – already dubbed “crimbos”.
Theresa May told ITV’s Daybreak that a white paper being published on Tuesday included proposals which “put the needs of victims first” by simplifying the process that allowed action to be taken against antisocial behaviour and put power back in the hands of local communities.
“One of the problems with asbos that I have been told about by people is that they just take too long, they are too bureaucratic and it takes such a long time sometimes to actually get anything done,” she said.
“So one of the things we will see with the new orders we are introducing is that it will be possible with some of them to get them in place within days, certainly possibly even within hours.”
She also defended her plan for a “community trigger” to ensure that the police take action against persistent antisocial behaviour. Three complaints from one household or a complaint from five separate households will compel a police response. “I hear too many cases where people say, you know, ‘We have been suffering from this antisocial behaviour, perhaps in our street, perhaps in our estate. It happens time and time again and nothing seems to happen.’ It just takes too long with the current asbos. So I think it is right communities should be able to say to the police: ‘Actually, something needs to be done about this’,” she said.
In addition, the package of measures is understood to include plans to impose on-the-spot penalties of up to £100 for householders who regularly dump rubbish in their gardens. Miscreants could also be taken to court, where the maximum fine would be £2,500, if they fail to heed an initial warning to clear away refuse such as old sofas and fridges.
But the package of measures to tackle antisocial behaviour has so far failed to make it into the Home Office’s crime and courts bill published this month because of a coalition dispute over the use of detention for teenagers who repeatedly breach one of the six new civil orders designed to tackle “yob” behaviour.
Justice ministers have quietly encouraged the use of diversion from the criminal justice system for teenagers in trouble to the point where the numbers in youth custody have fallen sharply. But there are fears in the youth justice system voiced by Liberal Democrats that the use of detention for teenagers who breach the proposed antisocial behaviour orders would be an even tougher reaction than Labour’s old regime and reverse the decline of children detained in youth custody.
There are also concerns that the new orders stipulate a less rigorous standard of proof and will be dealt with by district judges in civil courts rather than by the more specialised youth courts.
The home secretary is expected to defend the proposals on Tuesday as a streamlined package to provide faster and more visible justice for victims and communities without necessarily criminalising young people. It is also designed to simplify the tools available to the police and local authorities by sweeping away bureaucratic, slow and expensive measures such as asbos, crasbos – criminal antisocial behaviour orders, isos – individual support orders, and ios – individual orders.
The new measures include criminal behaviour orders which will include preventative bans on anyone over the age of 10 and could carry a prison sentence of up to five years if breached. There will also be crime prevention injunctions, which could be imposed with a lower standard of proof, community protection orders to deal with litter, graffiti, and noise, and a police “direction” power to replace current dispersal powers.
Enver Solomon, policy director at the Children’s Society and chair of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said: “There is no doubt that sometimes difficult behaviour, particularly by teenagers, remains an issue of great concern in many neighbourhoods. But youth engagement programmes, community mediation and interventions that address the whole family rather than just the child are far more effective than rushing to rely on court orders.
“There is a real danger that the government’s proposals will unnecessarily fast track children into a legal process which we know from experience is not successful at addressing the root causes of their behaviour,” he said.
“At a time when the numbers of children entering the youth justice system and going into custody is falling, and so saving large sums of money for the taxpayer, the last thing that is needed is to propel more children through the courts. Not only would this cost the taxpayer large sums of money, we already know that prisons have a poor record of reducing re-offending and antisocial behaviour.”
The Criminal Justice Alliance also warned that enforcement powers on their own would not be enough without extra community support such as youth clubs, family support and health services. “There is a real risk that these new orders will result in more and more people being sent to prison for breaching their order when the original offence would not have warranted custody. Our prisons are already severely overcrowded, and we know that warehousing people who often have social or health needs can make them more not less likely to reoffend,” said CJA director Viki Helyar-Cardwell. “Loss of employment and accommodation and separation from family can exacerbate the underlying causes of antisocial behaviour.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, claimed the package represented a watering down of Labour’s powers.
“The government is weakening not strengthening important antisocial behaviour powers. Alongside cutting 16,000 police officers including frontline neighbourhood police and PCSOs this will make it harder to deal with serious problems in local communities,” she said.
“The government’s new measures are a weaker rebrand, making it harder for the police, councils and housing associations to take tough enforcement action when people’s lives are made a misery by antisocial bullies or nuisance neighbours.
“It should not take three separate complaints, or five different households complaining, before getting a response. All complaints should be dealt with, and quickly: no one wants to wait for the government’s slow trigger.
“Breaching antisocial behaviour orders will no longer be a criminal offence. And housing associations have warned that rebranding injunctions will make it harder to deal with neighbours from hell because it rips up years of case law and experience.”