The term ‘antisocial behaviour’ is a very recent addition to the stock of criminological concepts. It was hardly used at all before the 1990s, but reference to it increased exponentially in the wake of the Crime and Disorder Act (1998). Here it refers to behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to persons not of the same household as the perpetrator. As can be seen by the ‘is likely to’ clause, the notion of antisocial behaviour covers a very wide spectrum of behaviours. Examples of such behaviours include graffitiwriting, abusive language or verbal intimidation, vandalism, littering, begging, assault, drunken behaviour in public and much, much more. Indeed, the Home Office definition includes the catch-all term ‘yobbish behaviour’ as well as ‘misuse of fireworks’ and ‘dumping rubbish and abandoning cars’. In fact, it might be said that the notion of antisocial behaviour refers to behaviour that someone does not like or considers to be unpleasant, and signals a sense of social breakdown caused, most particularly, by rowdy or uncontrolled young people. A wide range of instruments is available to try and tackle antisocial
behaviour, including warning letters, penalty notices, parenting orders, Individual Support Orders, injunctions and proceedings against tenants. Perhaps the two best known instruments are Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs) and Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). ABCs are written agreements between perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, the Local Authority, Youth Inclusion Support Panel and police or landlords. They are voluntary agreements lasting for six months. Intended primarily for young people, they can also be used with adults. Antisocial Behaviour Orders are legally binding court orders that prohibit individuals from engaging in specific kinds of behaviour or from associating with specific groups. Whilst the order is a civil injunction and does not lead to a criminal record, any breach of the order’s conditions can lead to criminal proceedings in a court of law. A worrying aspect of this is that ASBOs do not require the same evidential rigour as other criminal sanctions and can be applied almost entirely on the basis of hearsay evidence. Thus, breach of an ASBO can lead to a criminal record even though the order’s initial application did not require the same test of evidential adequacy normally required in criminal proceedings. Criminological interest in antisocial behaviour has focused largely
on neurodevelopmental causes, social pressures and gender differences
(see Moffitt et al., 2001) or on developmental risk-factors (see Farrington and Coid, 2007). Neurodevelopmental causes refer to specific neurological anomalies that lead to abnormal behaviour amongst a very small section of the population, predominantly affecting males. The risk-factor approach refers to ‘social’ problems such as family breakdown or ‘poor parenting’, school failure and/or truancy, the influence of peer groups and problems associated with fractured or ‘dysfunctional’ communities. Some criminologists have attempted to depict antisocial behaviour from the point of view of its young perpetrators and to use that depiction to generate a critique of New Labour youth justice policy generally (see Squires and Stephen, 2005). Others have attempted to chart some of the political and social forces underpinning the rise of policy concern with antisocial behaviour in the UK and to situate these forces in the context of American and European developments (see Burney, 2005). Others again have taken specific forms of such behaviour and charted their apparent rise in the context of declining social bonds, fractured communities, the rise of consumerism and the dominance of a neo-liberal political ideology in late twentieth-early twenty-first-century society (see Winlow and Hall, 2006). Whatever focus is taken it is clear that with such an enormous investment of economic, political and academic resources the phenomenon of antisocial behaviour will continue to form a key dimension of criminal justice policy and research for the foreseeable future.