Martin, Stephanie

LONDON-In an effort to fight petty crime, vandalism, and general rudeness, the British government recently launched anti-social behavior orders (ASBOs).

Offenses include shouting, swearing, spray painting, playing loud music, loitering, intimidating neighbors, and making sarcastic comments. The ASBOs apply to kids as young as 10, and violators face up to five years in prison.

Prime Minister Tony Blair says ASBOs will help people in Britain’s rougher areas. “It doesn’t always get the headlines, but if you’ve got really difficult people living next door or down the street…it makes life absolute hell,” he says.

Peter Cuming, leader of a north London Neighborhood Watch group, says ASBOs have gotten rid of drug dealers, beggars, and prostitutes.

Critics say ASBOs are too broad and focus on punishment instead of incentives to obey. Guardian columnist Nick Cohen accuses the government of “the criminalization of everyday incivility.” He writes, “The last time I looked, it wasn’t a crime to be sarcastic.”

ASBOs also are controversial because violators’ names and pictures can be released. One local newspaper labeled two boys, ages 10 and 11, as “imps of Satan.”

Rob Allen, director of the think tank Rethinking Crime and Punishment, says, “That’s potentially quite a destructive approach to kids… many of whom have serious family difficulties.”

Source: Associated Press

In general, do you think Britain’s new anti-social behavior orders are constructive or destructive? Do you expect ASBOs to make city life safer? more impersonal? more pleasant? Explain. How effective do you think ASBOs will be, and why? If America implemented them, what reaction and results would you expect?

Do you think ASBOs target behaviors that aren’t really crimes? target people who aren’t really criminals? Explain. In your opinion, is it a crime to be loud? to be rude? to be sarcastic? Explain. What’s the best way to deal with unpleasant or threatening behavior: ignore it? ask those responsible to stop? get authorities involved? other? What would life be like if everyone were kind and respectful? Do you think such a world is possible? Why or why not? Could ASBOs be the first step toward more civil societies? Why or why not? Should laws give people “incentives to obey”? Why or why not? What might these incentives be, and how might they work?

Do you think juvenile offenders should ever be identified? Why or why not? Would such publicity shame young people into shaping up or harden them into repeat offenders? Explain. What difficult people or behaviors do you encounter on a day-to-day basis? How do they affect your actions? your attitude? What, if anything, do you do about them?

Scripture links: Psalm 133; Proverbs 10:6-12; Romans 13:8-14; Galatians 5:13-15; James 4:11-12; and 1 Peter 3:8-12.

Copyright Group Publishing, Inc. Jan/Feb 2005

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