Sunday, October 23, 2005

MEN (AND WOMEN) BEHAVING BADLY: Targeting antisocial behavior

Addressing anti-social behavior Speaking of Mediation Week, educating the public about the benefits of mediation is probably not a bad idea in a country grappling with how best to deal with instances of anti-social or unneighborly behavior.

On the rise in the U.K. is the use of the anti-social behavior order (“asbo” for short), a court-issued injunction prohibiting an individual from acting, in the words of the applicable law, “in an anti-social manner, that is to say, in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself.” Violation of an asbo holds serious consequences and can result in arrest and jail time for transgressors.

Asbos have been used successfully in communities to address repeated patterns of violence, vandalism, intimidation, and racial harassment, according to the government’s Crime Reduction Website.

Despite their apparent success in curbing problem behavior and cleaning up troubled areas in urban neighborhoods, asbos are increasingly the subject of media attention and controversy, eliciting the criticism of groups or initiatives like AsboConcern and ASBOwatch, which are concerned with the overuse or misuse of asbos as a means of controlling behavior.

Reports abound of inappropriately issued asbos—against an 87-year-old man charged with making sarcastic comments about his neighbors, children with disabilities, and even a pet sheep accused of eating the flowers in a town cemetery.

Of course a mediator like me can't help but wonder whether any of these cases may be better suited to mediation for resolution rather than court intervention, particularly those involving disputes between neighbors. It is therefore worth noting that web sites like the U.K.-based Community Legal Service Direct offer advice and tips on dealing with community and neighborhood disputes, dispensing information not only on asbos, but on mediation as well as a remedy.