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ASBOs: the clocks are turning orange

The Toronto Star had an interesting article yesterday by Sandro Contenta about Britain’s “asbo” law: New U.K. law targets boorish Brits. I had never heard of this before — it’s a very strange and very disturbing law, both in terms of how it’s carried out as well as in the sense that it had to be thought up in the first place to address situations deemed out of control.

“Asbo” stands for Anti-Social Behaviour Order — see this Wikipedia entry and see also the UK Government’s Crime Reduction page. The applications of this law are becoming increasingly horrifying as increasingly horrifying, and tragic, and absurd behaviour is sought out and targeted. It’s as though there’s a social ratcheting-up of outrage happening, with an implicit agreement that it’s pointless to address root causes. “Asbo” laws were put together to target these “crimes”:

• graffiti – which can on its own make even the tidiest urban spaces look squalid
• abusive and intimidating language, too often directed at minorities
• excessive noise, particularly late at night
• fouling the street with litter
• drunken behaviour in the streets, and the mess it creates
• dealing drugs, with all the problems to which it gives rise. [Note: I’m quoting directly from the UK “crime reduction” site…]

Jeebus, that’s quite a list…

As Wikipedia notes, singling out the following absurd example, the use of “asbo” law is getting weirder and increasingly unwilling to address root problems:

In a recent example of a less conventional use of ASBOs, a woman has been given an ASBO preventing her from jumping into rivers, canals or railways. This is because the rescue services had to rescue her from these places whilst she was attempting suicide. Rather than providing her with treatment or counselling, they gave her an ASBO, which means that if she attempts suicide again she could be sent to prison. [More…]

As if that isn’t bad enough, children are the next target — and I’m talking about children, the under-10 crowd. See The Guardian, Child commissioner attacks ‘baby Asbos’ plan (Oct.14/05): “According to figures in June, 4,649 Asbos have been issued since their introduction in 1999, of which 2,057 have applied to children aged 10 to 17.” The under-10s are next.

Useful related Guardian links:
Crime czar: stop calling children ‘yobs’ (May 22/05)
Untamed Malady (June 13/05)
ASBOwatch, official Statewatch site critiquing the law.


  1. A few years ago, something like this, Anti-Social Behavior Orders. might have been great fodder for skits on Saturday Night Live (TV … I know, you don’t watch), but this is pretty sad — not to mention frightening.

    Comment by maria — October 25, 2005 #

  2. Yeah, there are too many weird things going on. Torture of prisoners by so-called “civilised” authorities; erosion of accountability in all spheres, matched by draconian laws designed for maximum punitive impact… I don’t know, it’s worrying.

    Comment by Yule Heibel — October 28, 2005 #

  3. i agree with yule there are too many weird stuff in prisons

    Comment by Anonymous — November 7, 2005 #

  4. I would rather see the problem from a community-oriented perspective than a civil liberties one. What is the best way for British communities to tackle the social alienation, violence, poverty, and disaffection that produce the negative behaviours that the ASBO (however unhappily) is designed to address?

    Comment by Catherine — November 10, 2005 #

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