Tackling antisocial behaviour has become a major law-and-order priority for Labour, which has brought in countless measures to help local authorities and the police to crack down on nuisance behaviour. The most well known of these is the antisocial behaviour order (ASBO), a hybrid measure that has captured the imagination of politicians, the media and the public, becoming shorthand for all that is perceived to be wrong with society. ASBOs have, however, been criticised not only for breaching human rights and riding roughshod over basic legal principles, but also for targeting the most vulnerable in our society. In spite of this, government officials frequently boast about the policy's success and seem reluctant to address concerns.
It has been ten years since ASBOs were introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and this timely, informative collection assembles thoughtful reflections from many who have studied and worked in the "ASBO industry" in an attempt to demonstrate the complexity of the policies' impact. There are more than 30 contributors, from academics (such as criminologists and sociologists) to those who implement policies (community safety officers, public safety managers and probation officers), and a chapter by Shami Chakrabati, director of the National Council for Civil Liberties.
These diverse contributions have been split into four sections. The first examines the problems experienced by those charged with translating antisocial behaviour policies into practice. The second considers the issues that have emerged from the management of those policies, and the third provides case studies investigating the effect that these measures have had on vulnerable groups such as prostitutes, beggars, single mothers and young people. The final section offers insightful critiques of the ASBO industry from legal, criminological and sociological perspectives. There is a useful introduction and concluding chapter by Peter Squires, the editor, in which he makes a good attempt to draw together the disparate chapters and identify significant themes and issues.
The aim of ASBO Nation is to illustrate the key questions surrounding the debate about antisocial behaviour and the government policies aimed at eradicating it from as many different perspectives as possible. In this it succeeds because it highlights issues of importance both to academics and to practitioners. From an academic perspective it explores and identifies the political, cultural and ideological underpinnings of antisocial behaviour legislation and puts it into the context of wider social and economic changes. It brings into sharp focus the politicisation of antisocial behaviour and discusses questions such as what constitutes antisocial behaviour and whether there has been any quantifiable increase in such activity in recent years. ASBO Nation also draws out issues of importance to practitioners and policymakers such as the localised nature of antisocial behaviour management, the marginalisation of vulnerable groups, and the need for policies to be aimed at bolstering communities rather than clamping down on individual behaviour. The editor's chapters are particularly successful at explaining how these themes feed into each other.
Although it offers few solutions, ASBO Nation will appeal to anyone interested in the subject and offers plenty of food for thought.
ASBO Nation: The Criminalisation of Nuisance
Edited by Peter Squires. The Policy Press. 392pp, £65.00 and £24.99. ISBN 9781847420282 and 205. Published 11 June 2008