The majority of people who received an anti-social behaviour intervention, in a sample of cases examined by the National Audit Office, did not re-engage in anti-social behaviour. But, for a number of perpetrators interventions had limited impact. Seventeen per cent of the population perceive high levels of anti-social behaviour in their area and the cost to government agencies of responding to reports of anti-social behaviour in England and Wales is approximately £3.4 billion per year.
A report published today by the National Audit Office found that around 65 per cent in a sample of 893 people who received some form of anti-social behaviour intervention did not engage in further anti-social behaviour. There was however a hard core of perpetrators for whom interventions had limited impact. Twenty per cent of the people in the sample received 55 per cent of all interventions issued.
The study looked at the impact of three of the most commonly used interventions: warning letters, Acceptable Behaviour Contracts and Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. The success rate for those receiving warning letters or Acceptable Behaviour Contracts were similar, with around two thirds receiving just one form of intervention from the authorities. However, over half of those who received the strongest form of intervention – an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) – breached the Order, and one third did so on five or more occasions. Forty per cent of people who received an Anti-Social Behaviour Order had received an earlier anti-social behaviour intervention and 80 per cent had previous criminal convictions.
The Home Office’s Anti-Social Behaviour Unit has successfully supported local areas to tackle anti-social behaviour through funding 373 Anti-Social Behaviour Co-ordinators, promoting the use of new tools and powers and providing training to practitioners. Whilst 21 per cent of the population perceived high levels of anti-social behaviour in 2002-03, by 2005-06 this had fallen to 17 per cent. There is however, a significant regional disparity in levels of perception, from 29 per cent of people in London perceiving high levels of anti-social behaviour to 7 per cent in Essex and Lincolnshire. In general the young and least well off are disproportionately adversely affected.
In four of the twelve the areas visited by the NAO, local co-ordinators working to tackle anti-social behaviour were concerned that a lack of capacity and experience of using anti-social behaviour legislation within their local authorities’ legal services departments meant that breaches were not always dealt with in a timely manner, creating frustration in the local community. This frustration appears to be compounded by fear of reprisal for individuals who report incidents, and concerns that witness intimidation is a factor in the breakdown of legal processes when dealing with breaches of intervention.
Local agencies would be better placed to target their interventions more effectively if the Home Office undertook formal evaluation of the success of different interventions and the impact of providing support services in conjunction with enforcement. International research suggests that preventive programmes, such as education, counselling and training can be a cost effective way of addressing anti-social behaviour. The Home Office, together with other Departments, is taking this forward through the Respect Action Plan and the Government is also currently considering further legislation to address anti-social behaviour.