How we influence: ASB enforcement strategies

Matt Ford
Thursday, 4 June 2020

How have we influenced the use of antisocial behaviour powers to manage young adults?

In July 2018 we completed work to establish the use of three antisocial behaviour (ASB) tools to sanction young adults in England and Wales. This project was the first to consider young adults and ASB tools since their overhaul in 2014, which created new mechanisms for the potentially more extensive use of ASB enforcement by local authorities and the police.

We produced 41 original findings in two reports, engaged a network of over a hundred ASB practitioners from across England and Wales, and achieved national media coverage.

Local interventions

Over the past year we used the significant new knowledge which emerged in this work as a basis for more targeted influencing activity in line with our ambition to reduce the reliance on criminalisation to resolve social problems.

A key component of this work involved making interventions into local practice. In January 2020 we held a workshop focused on reflecting on practice with around 40 ASB practitioners from across the country. We workshopped significant practice issues in order for knowledge and learning to be shared amongst participants. Later in this series we will publish a piece by one of the speakers from the event, Gemma Worgan, who leads on an 18 to 25s diversion scheme in South Wales. 

This workshop wasn’t how we initially were going to proceed with the project. As we wanted to focus on practice, we thought it made sense to focus on specific local areas. We identified three areas where use of ASB measures to sanction young adult behaviour was high relative to others, and planned to intervene to encourage a different approach. We found these areas very interesting, but the data we gathered suggested that our assumptions were wrong as use of the measures actually fluctuates over time. This perhaps further evidences one of the conclusions from our initial project that use of ASB measures often involves flooding an area with enforcement which isn’t part of a long term, strategic approach.

Later in this series we will publish an article by Dr James Pattison about his analysis of one of the high use areas we originally identified, a public spaces protection order used to tackle street drinking in Shirebrook, Bolsover.

Other avenues: ethnic disproportionality

We did continue to pursue the ethnic disproportionality in prosecutions for breach of ASB powers we'd identified in London, as it also tied into the nationally-focused dimension of the project aimed at improving data collection and accountability for use of the measures. Both MOPAC and the police inspectorate confirmed that comprehensive and consistent data is not collected by police forces on who is issued with ASB measures, so it is difficult to understand how this disproportionality arises.

We have been working with the Home Office as part of their ASB data subgroup to improve data collection at the local level. We have also worked to get the issue on the agenda of campaign organisations and independent advisory groups to keep pressure on the police from below to be aware of how they are using this power. This included training Stopwatch campaigners in how to use freedom of information requests. It’s good that this is now on the agenda as, without the requirement for centralised oversight, it’s likely to be a long term project to improve data collection.