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Criminal Justice

Anti-social behaviour powers – new report finds disparity in use across England and Wales

Significant disparities in the use of controversial anti-social behaviour powers are revealed in new research by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

The report, Antisocial Behaviour Powers and Young Adults: The Data, puts information about antisocial behaviour (ASB) sanctioning in the public domain for the first time since their reorganisation nearly four years ago. (1) Findings include:

  • Significant variations in the use of three ASB powers (dispersal powers, Community Protection Notices, and Public Space Protection Orders). Young adults in Norfolk for example, are more than ten times more likely to be prosecuted in relation to these three antisocial behaviour powers than young adults in Greater Manchester or West Midlands. (2)
  • Young black men are disproportionately affected by ASB measures in London. Young people aged 18-25 years old who self-identified as being of Black African heritage accounted for 31 per cent of the young adults prosecuted for breaching dispersal powers in London, despite this group accounting for only 9 per cent of 18-25 year olds in the capital. (3)(4)
  • A high concentration of the use of these powers in a small number of areas. Just three police force areas account for 42 per cent of all prosecutions of young adults in England and Wales (London, West Yorkshire, Durham).
  • A wide range of behaviours for which antisocial behaviour powers are being used, including car racing, street drinking and begging.
  • The use of the sanctions to move people on, exclude or fine is typically not recorded. A number of other gaps and difficulties in the data make establishing a full picture of the use of these powers and their underlying dynamics impossible.

The report findings are based on over 800 Freedom of Information requests to all councils and police forces in England and Wales, as well as to the Ministry of Justice regarding prosecutions for the breach of these measures (a criminal offence). The 2014 reforms, heralded as making antisocial behaviour more responsive and accountable to communities and victims, gave greater flexibility to local agencies – mainly councils and the police – in the use of antisocial behaviour powers. The research  suggests the coalition government’s reforms have produced a regime whose consequences are impossible to hold to account.

Looking ahead the report highlights the need for further work to understand ASB practices and a deeper understanding of the full picture of strategies to address ASB. This includes:

  • Exploring how other ASB measures are used to sanction young adults.
  • Mapping the full range of prevention and diversion work which takes place before escalation to formal sanctioning.
  • Investigating the long term consequences for those subject to enforcement.

Also published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies today is Antisocial Behaviour and Young Adults: Practitioners’ Accounts. This second briefing looks at how three ASB measures are being used on the ground to sanction young adults.