Criminal Justice – Why Study Anti-Social Behaviour?

In the UK, “anti-social behaviour” and “ASBOs” (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) have increasingly become crime-related buzzwords over the last ten years. This has been a consequence of the Labour government’s introduction of a civil order as punishment for those who are disorderly (i.e. ranging from being a noisy neighbour to being verbally abusive), this prevents the individual from going to certain places and talking to certain people after it is issued.Subsequently, Anti-Social Behaviour is increasingly becoming a subject studied on criminal justice courses, and a module in its own right. So why should one consider studying Anti-Social Behaviour? And what can we expect from such a course or module?One of the reasons the phrases: “anti-social behaviour” and “ASBO” have become such popular terms is a result of the significant amount of criticism that mounted via the public and media over the last 10 years. This, of course, is one of the reasons the subject is so ripe for debate in the classroom. After all, is the zealous hand-out of a civil order really making a difference on crime? Or can they actually make our streets safer? And how about those who have received them for such, seemingly, lawful acts as playing football?Such questions are frequent at the inception of any new government attempt to drive down crime, yet anti-social behaviour orders have also been the stimulus for an intriguing trend within certain communities – further highlighting their futility. After their introduction, it soon became clear that ASBOs were becoming something of a ‘badge of honour’ to some people, or as Elizabeth Burney argues in ‘Talking Tough, Acting Coy’, an “emblem of punitive populism”. Such trends are of great interest to those with an interest in criminal justice – due both to the development of social response to law on a community and national level, as well as arguable failure of such orders.Expectedly, a module or course with a focus on anti-social behaviour will spend some study time on discussing how ASBOs are issued, and what type of actions an individual has to do to deserve one – an aspect of the subject that seems to differ from area to area. Such debate has been borne from the diversity of reasons given by courts for issuing ASBOs, i.e. more intriguing reasons have included flyposting, suicide attempts, and even kicking a football over a fence. Discussion on the reasons for ASBOs and the reasons for they way the work to be re-addressed are, therefore, perfect for those with an interest in law and criminal justice to formulate opinions on a very relevant and “close-to-home” issue.Additionally, anti-social behaviour modules and courses also study the impact of civil orders on safety and crime in communities from different areas (i.e. urban and rural), as well as on a national level – and question the methods and the necessity for them. This, I would say, is one of the most fundamental aspects of studying anti-social behaviour – it is a direct insight into the complexities of crime and law on a multitude of levels: the individual, the family, the community, the region, and the country. And it is an aspect of criminal justice that is set to change significantly over the next few years.

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