Over half youth Asbos breached

The number of young people breaching their anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) has increased to more than half over the past two years, new figures show.

The latest Home Office statistics reveal that between April 1999 and December 2005, 57 per cent of under-18s and 41 per cent of adults breached their Asbos, compared to 47 per cent and 38 per cent respectively in the period to December 2003.

Overall, 9,853 Asbos have been issued since the scheme began almost eight years ago, of which the majority (56 per cent) were to adults.

Today’s figures confirm a new report from the National Audit Office (NAO), which finds that in a sample of 115 young people and adults given Asbos, more than half (55 per cent) breached the conditions of their order.

The watchdog also reveals that local coordinators in four of the 12 areas surveyed by the watchdog expressed concern that breaches were not dealt with quickly enough.

However, the report says 44 per cent of those who breached their Asbo only did so once, and often with a minor infraction, such as going to a place that was forbidden to them.

It concludes that anti-social behaviour interventions, which include warning letters and acceptable behaviour contracts as well as Asbos, are generally successful, with 65 per cent of 893 people surveyed not going on to engage in bad behaviour.

Only about a third (35 per cent) of people given contracts went on to commit anti-social behaviour, compared to 37 per cent who got warning letters and 55 per cent who got Asbos. But those given letters were much quicker to reoffend than the other two groups.

Auditor general John Bourn said government action must now be focused on tackling the “hard core of individuals who repeatedly behave in anti-social way” – 20 per cent of the sample received 55 of all interventions.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty welcomed the NAO report as proof the government’s approach “is working”. He also noted the percentage of people perceiving high levels of anti-social behaviour had fallen from 21 per cent to 17 per cent since 2002.

“For a minority though, who breach their Asbo, further action is necessary to protect communities. We need to be clear that the breach of an Asbo is not the failure of the Asbo, but the failure of the individual to abide by its conditions,” he said.

However, shadow home secretary David Davis said the government was wasting an opportunity to deal with anti-social behaviour, saying Asbos “could be a real weapon against crime if they were properly enforced, but these figures show that is not the case”.

“This reduces them to nothing more than yet another Labour initiative designed to grab a headline rather than address a serious problem. Yet again we see Labour talk tough, but act soft,” he said.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg added: “The strategy of carpeting the country in Asbos and demonising thousands of young people was always far too blunt a tool to deal with the complexities of anti-social behaviour.

“While Asbos may have their place, it is clear that they are not nearly as effective as ministers claim. The prime minister and [home secretary] John Reid must stop trying to look tough and instead focus on effective policies that actually work.”