Antisocial Studies

Civil rights in Britain

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In 1998 Prime Minister Tony Blair added the word ASBO to the British lexicon. Short for "Antisocial Behavior Order," an ASBO is a civil order that allows a judge to bar a particular individual from engaging in otherwise lawful behavior. Local authorities can slap an order on anyone over age 10 who has behaved antisocially—defined by law as activity that "causes or is likely to have caused harassment or alarm or distress."

ASBOs typically ban targeted teenagers from entering certain areas or assembling with friends. According to AsboConcern, a coalition that lobbies against the orders, individuals have been banned from riding bikes, feeding birds, being sarcastic, and wearing only underwear in front of a window.

In November, the government's Youth Justice Board released a comprehensive study on ASBOs' efficacy. Researchers found that 49 percent of the minors who received the orders violated them and ended up back in court. Officials involved in youth justice services "tended to think that ASBOs were overused and had little positive impact on behaviour." And they also feared the orders were making offenders combative, undermining more thoughtful efforts at crime prevention, and giving kids ever newer and pettier ways to break the law.

Despite the skepticism of those who work directly with offenders, ASBOs remain popular with law enforcement. They seem increasingly popular with another key demographic: offenders. According to parents and officials, kids see an ASBO as a badge of honor. "I think they all want one," one mother told the researchers. "I know a boy that's hellbent on getting an ASBO because he feels left out."

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