Lock up thugs, police urge

USE every ounce of your sentencing powers, to lock up persistent offenders and back up efforts to clear Ipswich streets of crime.That was the plea to courts today, from a top cop who has been left gnashing his teeth in frustration, as young offenders who breach court Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are being let off without a custodial sentence.

USE every ounce of your sentencing powers, to lock up persistent offenders and back up efforts to clear Ipswich streets of crime.

That was the plea to courts today, from a top cop who has been left gnashing his teeth in frustration, as young offenders who breach court Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are being let off without a custodial sentence.

But today's Suffolk magistrates insist custody is not the only way to restrict such offenders' liberty and keep them off the streets.

As the Evening Star reported last week , police claim significant inroads are being made into crime in East Ipswich but the area's inspector Andy Solomon still receives 'frequent' complaints from residents- and is now urging the courts to take tough action.

Inspector Solomon said: "With youngsters, particularly those subject to Anti Social Behaviour Orders, I feel the courts should deal with breaches in the strongest possible terms.

"They have the power to administer custodial sentences and I feel that by not dealing with ASBO breaches in this way, they are not sending out the right message to the community, or issuing a deterrent to others subject to such orders.

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"The courts should remember that anyone subject to an ASBO has already been through a number of stages of intervention work, prior to the ASBO being imposed, and they have all failed.

"Therefore breaches should be dealt with strongly."

Breach of the order without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Three Ipswich youths have appeared before magistrates in recent weeks for allegedly breaching their Anti Social Behaviour Orders – two of them have been accused of breaching the order more than once.

One of the defendants was recently given a curfew order for breaching his ASBO. That only required him to stay indoors between certain hours, and came weeks after he claimed he had turned over a new leaf.

However, magistrates insist custody should not be the only way to deal with people who breach an ASBO.

Christopher Bowler, director of legal services for Suffolk Magistrates Court Committee, said: "As far as we are concerned, breach of an ASBO is a very serious criminal offence.

"We agree with Inspector Solomon to the extent that it is a serious matter and people who breach ASBOs should be dealt with seriously, but it is not right that everyone should be put in custody.

"A curfew order is appropriate in some cases for example, as it keeps the person off the streets during specified times.

"It is like an additional punishment to the defendant and you could argue it restricts their liberty."

He said those guidelines were issued by the Judicial Studies Board which trains magistrates.

The maximum sentences available in magistrates' court is six months custody, or a fine of up to £5,000, or both. The most serious cases can be referred to crown court where sentencing powers are up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

Options open to magistrates do not include a discharge, but do include: custody; a fine; a curfew ordering the defendant to stay inside between specified hours; a community rehabilitation order saying they must not re-offend and must comply with conditions set by the probation service; a community punishment order saying they must complete a period of service to the community; a combination of both community penalties.

N What do you think can be done?

Write to Star Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk.

In tomorrow's Evening Star a former magistrate speaks out against lenient sentences and Home Secretary David Blunkett defends ASBOs.

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Anti Social Behaviour Orders are preventative measures, designed to stop persistent and serious anti-social behaviour which makes life a misery for a community and/or an individual.

ASBOs allow for children as young as ten to receive custodial sentences if they don't comply with conditions set by the court.

Local councils, chief officers of police, British Transport Police and registered social landlords, can apply for ASBOs which can then be imposed by the court.

They are civil orders made by the Magistrate's Court, under Section 1 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

An ASBO can be made against anyone who is at least ten years old, and lasts for a minimum of two years.

It gives clear directions to the individual about what he/she cannot do – eg may not enter a certain street after 6pm, use foul or offensive language in public etc.

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