Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Posts Tagged ‘Alan Johnson

Alan Johnson and the Asbo

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I’m not a fan of Asbos, mainly because I think they criminalize legal behaviour. The most worrying aspect of this is when a person is imprisoned for breach when the original behaviour was not criminal. So, when  I heard on the radio that Alan Johnson was issuing guidelines to the police to the effect that more people who breach Asbos need to be apprehended and convicted I was sceptical- surely this will just lead to more even more criminalization. That this has come out of the Fiona Pilkington case doesn’t really seem to make sense- the problem wasn’t that the perpetrators of the ASB hadn’t been apprehended for breaching their Asbos but that the council and police had failed to react to calls for help.

Maybe the police should take a more active role in the decisions to request an Asbo- they are trained in making a case to the court and can draw on other concepts important in the criminal justice system such as legitimacy and discretion but should they simply focus on bringing a case against breaches? Resources simply wouldn’t allow this- accusations of anti-social behaviour require (or should require) a great deal of investigation- after all, you’re running the risk of putting someone in prison for non-criminal behaviour. They should not be a way of delivering justice on the cheap or on the sly. Moreover, I really do believe that allowing local councils to have complete control over ASB is wrong- and limiting their discretion even more, as Johnson wants to do, is doomed to fail. Council officers already have very limited discretion which means that (defensible) decision-making can’t happen. Considering criminal justice process relies on discretion because it is the way laws get put into practice (see Hawkins 1993 for example) removing it not only leads to resource problems but can also undermine any belief, legitimacy and trust people have in the system.

It seems to me that the solution lies in better partnership working but also a move away from the targeting of low level anti-social behaviour and towards the stuff that really harms people- you know, like criminal behaviour- weren’t the people who terrorised Fiona Pilkington guilty of harassment? If the ASB route hadn’t been followed, maybe they would not have been able to inflict as much damage as they did. Oh, I temporarily forgot- there is an election round the corner and anti-social behaviour is sure fire vote winner.

As an aside, I noticed that in the Guardian article linked to above, ASBO has become asbo- it appears to have to become a word rather an acronym- when did this happen and what does it mean? Are they now so normal that the word itself is enough to signify the meaning rather than the full “Anti-Social Behaviour Order”?

Written by criminologyandstuff

October 14, 2009 at 2:11 pm