Criminalising youth sociability in public spaces

Bassetlaw District Council has just created the following PSPO: ‘The new order prohibits shouting, swearing or acting in a manner as to cause annoyance, harassment, alarm or distress to any person- and also means that 16 year olds will not be permitted to gather in the vicinity in groups of three or more.’

This will make it a crime for an under 16 year old to gather in a group in the defined public space. This amounts to criminalising teenage sociability.

Hillingdon Council has passed an order targeted at young people, in one area restricting activities including: ‘using skateboards, pedal cycles, roller skates, roller blades’, and ‘gathering in groups of two or more persons unless going to or from a parked vehicle or waiting for a scheduled bus at a designated bus stop’ (see the text of the order here).

This is the worst solution to the problem of youth misbehaviour. The urbanist Jane Jacobs outlines the importance of interactions in public spaces for the socialisation of children: the fact that other adults set an example, tell them off, look out for them. What they are being taught is about how one relates to others as a member of society, in public.

Such PSPOs – as with the use of dispersal powers – are an example of how the failure of socialisation of young people is being dealt with by mechanisms that entirely displace them and withdraw from any association at all.

Preventing teenagers from gathering in public cannot but make things a lot worse.

UPDATE: Salford Council is proposing a PSPO banning: ‘unauthorised water activities in any of the quays, basins or canal’; ‘jumping off any bridges’; ‘causing general disturbance including being abusive to other persons, using foul language, being rowdy and inconsiderate.’ These restrictions – targeted at young people gathering and swimming in the area – will make it a crime to swim, as well as creating new offences of ‘using foul language’ and ‘being rowdy’. See local news coverage; respond to the consultation.

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