Five reasons why CBOs are worse than ASBOs
The Lib-Cons aren’t merely rebranding anti-social behaviour measures – they are intensifying them.
When the UK’s Conservative home secretary Theresa May announced last July that it was time to ‘move beyond’ Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), you may have thought that she had recognised that this intrusive measure introduced by New Labour was illiberal and harmful to community life. It seems not.
The media have responded to May’s recent announcement that ASBOs will be replaced with a new ‘toolkit’ consisting of Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs) and Crime Prevention Injunctions (CPIs) by dismissing it as a ‘rebranding’ exercise. In fact, these new behaviour orders promise to be more insidious and divisive than their predecessors.
Here are five key reasons why, from an examination of the Home Office’s consultation document, these new arrangements will do far more harm than good:
1) They continue to be an insidious attempt to meddle with our behaviour.
The report, More Effective Responses to Anti-Social Behaviour, repeatedly bangs on about needing to have the right ‘toolkit’ to deal with anti-social behaviour. According to the Home Office, with ASBOs there were too many tools in the kit, and they were ‘bureaucratic, slow and expensive’, which explains why courts and police alike let them fall into disuse. The main aim behind these proposals is to develop a shiny new ‘reformed’ kit, which is smaller but has ‘more flexible’ and ‘informal tools that work first time’.
However, for all these attempts to hammer the point home with the toolkit analogy, it’s clear that the Home Office hasn’t hit the nail on the head: we don’t need better tools in the box, we need to scrap the toolbox altogether. Moreover, these tools remain firmly in the hands of the state, which won’t be allowing us to adopt a do-it-yourself attitude to anti-social behaviour. As May assures us in the preface of the consultation, ‘reducing anti-social behaviour is a priority for the government’. In other words, we can be certain the authorities are going to be meddling in our affairs just as much as under New Labour.
2) They encourage communities of snitches.
Commenting on the government’s decision to abolish the ASBO last July, Theresa May declared that ‘we need a complete change in emphasis, with people and communities working together to stop bad behaviour escalating’. What she was referring to was the idea of a ‘community trigger’. This rather gimmicky initiative encourages neighbours to collaborate with one another and snitch to the authorities about individuals’ behaviour they don’t like. If more than five people complain about the same problematic person, then the complaint gets escalated and local authorities are ‘compelled’ to take it seriously. So rather than simply encouraging a few neighbours to take action the good old fashioned way – by having some stern words with the individual concerned – irritated parties are instead asked to collectively squeal to the authorities. The more who squeal, the more likely it is that the state will step in.
3) They will re-educate people to be acceptable citizens
In a statement about the new orders, crime prevention minister James Brokenshire emphasised that a major difference between these new orders and ASBOs is that they would allow ‘positive conditions’ to be ‘imposed’ upon people. This is indeed a difference, and it’s for the worse: ASBOs were mainly just about ensuring that other people’s bad habits didn’t bother others. With these new proposals, people will now be trained to behave ‘acceptably’. In trying to remould us into their image of an acceptable citizen, this new initiative promises to be even more intrusive than ASBOs.
4) They are sending a message to all of us: behave ‘acceptably’, or else!
Home Office officials are at pains to emphasise that these measures are only intended to target the ‘small number of individuals’ that are causing problems in the neighbourhood. Far from it. The new rules will encourage communities to snitch on others, allow people to be banned from entering certain areas, outlaw drinking in public places, and prohibit people from playing their music too loud. Far from just dealing with those behaving ‘unacceptably’, these new orders will be sending a clear message to all of us: if we don’t conform and behave in an ‘acceptable’ manner, then we could become one of the ‘small number’ of problem people who need to be reconditioned through positive behaviour courses. The consequence – whether intended or not – of micromanaging and regulating the behaviour of a few is that the behaviour of everyone begins to be regulated.
5) They see people as the problem.
These new ‘tools’ are championed by the Home Office as being able to give professionals the ability to ‘get to the root of a range of neighbourhood problems’. What are these ‘root’ problems? Brokenshire elaborates that the new rules are about trying to understand ‘why someone is behaving in the way that they are. So to address some of the underlying causes… binge drinking, a drug problem, that they’ve got issues with anger management’.
This exposes the fundamental reason why no good will come from the new behaviour orders: anti-social behaviour is seen to be caused by damaged individuals who need to be mended, rather than symptomatic of broader social problems. Rather than considering the social reasons as to why someone may have turned to alcohol, they are seen to have a ‘drink problem’, a psychological flaw that belongs to them personally.
As long as anti-social behaviour is cast in this light, as an individual defect rather than a social problem, it can’t be fixed regardless of the number of super-charged snazzy new ‘tools’ the authorities are given. Far from resolving the problem, these meddlesome, intrusive attempts by the state to micromanage communities and impose norms of what is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ behaviour will exacerbate it. The ASBO doesn’t need to be ‘reformed’, it needs to be abolished in its entirety.
Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked.
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