UK: Children bear the brunt of "anti-social behaviour" measures

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Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO's) target children and protestors [feature as pdf]

On 19 July the Home Office launched a five-year strategic plan entitled Confident Communities in a Secure Britain which Tony Blair claims marks the end of "the 1960s social-liberal consensus on law and order" that has enabled some to take "freedom without responsibility". It is the latest step in the government's drive to cut crime by 15% over the next four years and reduce "anti-social behaviour". The main points are:

* Fixed Penalty Notices extended to cover more crimes such as under-age drinking, petty theft, shoplifting and the misuse of fireworks

* Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) to have their process of application sped up to a matter of hours and media reporting of those who break them to be made easier

* Numbers of Community Support Officers (CSOs) to rise to 24,000 by 2008.

* 12,000 police officers to be freed for frontline duty by reducing paperwork

* New £36 million unit to offer support to witnesses and crime victims

* Doubling of electronic tagging to 18,000 people and the introduction of satellite tracking of offenders

* Number of pilots for "Together" schemes to be increased from 10 to 50. The 50 worst offenders in each area will be "named and shamed"

* Under plans to be published in the autumn, local communities will be able to trigger snap inspections of their local police force, call for increased use of curfews and ASBOs, and set priorities for local policing. The levelling of petitions is the example Blunkett gave of how they would do this

* Specialist anti-social behaviour courts and prosecutors to be created, and legal aid to be "streamlined" so that by 2005 a system of fixed fees will be in place

* Everyone entering or leaving the country, after 2008, to have their photo taken and "facial mapping" technology to be used

The package was greeted with uniform hostility from opposition parties who claimed it to be little more than an attempt to grab headlines. Indeed, there are very few new measures, rather just modifications to existing mechanisms for combating anti-social behaviour. Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten, claimed that "this government promised to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. We have seen a lot of get tough rhetoric but little progress on tackling the causes". Criminalising low-level nuisance behaviour is not likely to reduce the public's fear of crime. It is children, in particular, that seem to be the target of this anti-social behavioural clampdown having already faced increasing restrictions of their civil liberties over the last five years.

For example, a new power, introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, which allows for the dispersal of groups (defined as two or more people) gathered in an area deemed to be an anti-social "hot-spot", has been frequently applied. This is regardless of age and time of day and refusal to obey can lead to arrest. The Act also provides for the taking home of anyone under the age of 16 found on the streets after 9pm who "is not under the effective control of a parent or a responsible person aged 18 or over". In Wigton, a Cumbrian market town, children were banned from the town centre after dark for the two-week duration of their Easter holiday. Summer "curfew" zones have also been established across London, (in Trafalgar Square, Regent Street, Camden and 14 other areas), in which children are not allowed to gather. If they ignore an order to disperse they could be held in a police cell and later handed custodial sentences or a fine of up to £5,000. Many other areas have pursued similar policies.

Police-style security and drug checks are also being enforced in schools. Sniffer dogs are regularly used in over 100 schools throughout England and Wales according to Drugscope, a UK drugs charity. Twelve police forces have

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