Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Posts Tagged ‘anti-social behaviour

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”?

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Written by criminologyandstuff

October 14, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Response to reports of ’35 million yob crimes a year’

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I think the Express has really outdone itself here in terms of statistical manipulation. Apparently the police logged ‘3.9million incidents of antisocial behaviour’ in England and Wales in 2007/08. According to the Express, because the British Crime Survey says that only 11% of victims report an incident this means that, actually, there were 35 million ‘yob attacks’- they’ve multiplied 3.9m by 9.1. Well, I don’t mean to be picky but the BCS actually says that:

People who had experienced problems with noisy or nuisance neighbours were the most likely to complain (49% had done so) compared with 23 per cent of those who had experienced drug use or dealing and 14 per cent of those who had experienced people being drunk or rowdy. (page 1)

So I don’t think that the 11% figure is accurate. I thought that maybe they were using reported crime (as opposed to ASB) figures but according to the BCS 42% of crimes are reported. Additionally, the most common reason for not reporting the incident is because it was considered by the ‘victim’ to be too trivial. If this is the case, why are we so bothered about it? The problem is, is that we are dealing with this problem within a framework devised by a government and media which is, quite frankly, obsessed by anti-social behaviour. We are asking people what behaviour they have witnessed, classifying it as ASB and then ignoring the fact that the supposed victim decided not to report it because they considered it to be too trivial to report. This behaviour is obviously not causing any significant harm (financial or physical). If it was, people would report it in the same way that most people report burglary, murder or car theft. I think that a much better way of tackling this issue is to ask people to define ASB acts for themselves based on the ‘official’ definition from the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (rather than the considerably more scary version on the Home Office website- Anti-social behaviour is virtually any intimidating or threatening activity that scares you or damages your quality of life) which is ‘behaviour likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress to members of the public not of the same household as the perpetrator’. Respondents should then be asked to report whether they have experienced/witnessed it.

Moving on… the Express  says:

The horrifying statistics suggest an epidemic of unbridled hooliganism is sweeping the nation.

But, the BCS says that:

Nineteen per cent of adults had a high level of perceived ASB in 2001/02… This rose to 21 per cent in 2002/03 before falling to 16 per cent in 2003/04. Between 2003/04 and 2006/07, there was a slight increase in the proportion with a high level of perceived ASB. The latest figures for 2007/08 show a reduction, compared with the previous year, to return to the same level (16%) as found in 2003/04.

Admittedly, the BCS is fairly wordy but basically they are saying that perceptions of ASB decreased from 19% in 2001/02 to 16% last year, albeit with small fluctuations here and there. I think everyone agrees that police recorded crime is not a very accurate picture of what happens in reality and that the BCS is considerably more so. If we are experiencing an unbridled epidemic of hooliganism, why isn’t it showing up in the BCS? Either, there is no epidemic, or the BCS has some serious methodological flaws which it admittedly does but I don’t think its that bad!

Moving on again… the Express says that:

The types of offences include youth and gang-related nuisance; vandalism and damage to property; drug nuisance and dealing; prostitution and kerb crawling; dog and animal nuisance; harassment and intimidation; and litter, rubbish and fly-tipping.

But we have seen that the most likely incident to be reported is noisy or nuisance neighbours so I expect these are the majority of incidents that would be recorded by the police- not gang-related nuisance. Why doesn’t nuisance neighbours, the kind of behaviour most likely to be reported, not appear in the Express’s article? According to the BCS, ‘of the seven strands that make up the overall ASB measure, the 2007/08 BCS showed that the most widely perceived problems are teenagers hanging around, and rubbish or litter.’ Not exactly gang-related nuisance or harassment. Only 7% thought that vandalism and graffiti is a big problem in their area.

Anyway, it’s not as simple as the Express makes out and I am sure that they are manipulating figures they don’t understand to get a ‘story’. Finally, as another example of statistical manipulation I will draw your attention to the final sentence of the article (yes I did read that far, unlike most tabloid journalists) which is a quote from a Home Office minister:

The British Crime Survey shows that high levels of perceived antisocial behaviour in the local area have fallen from a high of 21 per cent in 2002-03 to 16 per cent in 2007/8.

I wonder why they chose 2002/03 as the year for comparison rather than 2001/02 (which was the year that this data was first collected) when the figure was  19%? Or why not choose 2003/04 when the figure was 16%?

I’m not going to say that ASB doesn’t exist but I am absolutely unequivocal in my belief that it is not as bad as the Express (and the Mail and the Sun, for that matter) make out. But maybe that’s because I’m a fairly privileged, well-educated, white, middle class PhD student at one of the world’s most elite universities… unlike the journalists who make these figures up.

Written by criminologyandstuff

February 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm