Kevin Neeson used to get arrested almost every single day. When he avoided the cells it was simply because he had managed to avoid being caught. He was one of the first young people in Scotland to receive a Anti-Social Behaviour Order (Asbo). He says it made no difference at all.

Kevin, according to the stereotypical image cemented in the public's mind by political rhetoric, looks like a ned. He also speaks a language that only he and other former gang members can understand. Meeting him feels like confronting Alex from A Clockwork Orange, the Alex from the end of the novel rather than the beginning because he has started to turn his life around and is more charming than frightening.

Kevin is one of more than 1000 persistent young offenders that the Scottish Executive has tried to tackle with its flagship legislation on anti-social behaviour.

When the new Act came into force in October 2004 Jack McConnell, first minister, promised to crackdown on "ned" culture.

Ministers talked of the need for "tough love", and penalties including dispersal orders, parenting orders, Asbos and tagging for under 16s were introduced to bring them into line.

The new powers to tackle youth offending have been used to varying degrees. Parenting orders have not been used at all and executive figures indicate there have been only five Asbos issued to under-16s.

Despite record investment from the executive, the numbers of persistent young offenders - committing five or more offences in a six-month period - has increased significantly. During 2005-06, there were 1388 such offenders recorded in Scotland, despite a target to reduce the figure by 10%. In Glasgow, the numbers rose from 143 to 204.

When lambasted by children's charities for some of the more draconian measures in the legislation, ministers responded with numerous examples of communities blighted by youth crime. They claimed their critics were living in "ivory towers", too distant from the blight of anti-social behaviour to understand it. Kevin, by contrast, has been in and out of foster homes, children's units and police cells since he was four.

"I started smoking hash when I was eight and drinking when I was 10," he says. "When I was younger I used to go and watch fights. Just seeing it gave me a mad adrenalin rush. Then I started fighting myself and hanging out with the older guys and we would go thieving all the time.

"I was getting the jail every single day pretty much, and every weekend too. My ma said she couldn't control me and the police labelled me as unruly so I got an Asbo. It didn't make a difference. Some people use Asbos as an excuse for their behaviour, and others see them as a badge of honour. It certainly didn't help."

What has made a difference under the Act is the increased resources going into social work and the introduction of intensive support packages for young people being considered and subject to tagging.

Now 19, Kevin says he has dramatically curbed his offending. The main reason, he says, is the support he receives from Includem, a charity which works with the most troubled and troublesome offenders across Scotland. He meets his case worker several times a week and can call them 24 hours a day, seven days a week if he is struggling to cope.

Includem has provided intensive support packages to approximately 200 young people since October 2004. Initial research indicates that of these most prolific of offenders, two-thirds have stopped committing crimes. The remaining third have seriously reduced the frequency of their offending.

However, only about a quarter of these young people have also received the tagging element of the order - a point which has irked some in the executive - because youth workers found the support often worked without the tag.

Some parts of the legislation have been popular. Many residents in areas such as Mid Calder, one of the 13 places to have been granted a dispersal order, which bans specific young people from gathering in an area, welcomed the move. In Dennistoun, Glasgow, local people petitioned for their dispersal order to become permanent after it gave them a reprieve from local gangs.

Yet anti-social behaviour orders and tagging for under-16s have been used far less than expected. Social work departments have consistently said Asbos would only be used as a last resort after all other intervention has failed. In addition, they have found them difficult and expensive to get through the court system.

Undeterred by the low take-up rate, Mr McConnell has made repeated calls for them to be implemented and even organised trips to Manchester, known as the heartland for "junior Asbos", to show journalists and local councillors their benefits.

Alongside the low take-up rate, the figures on youth offending have been difficult for ministers to swallow. In December, Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, admitted she was "bitterly disappointed" after the latest data on persistent young offenders showed a 15% jump.

The seemingly inexorable rise in the most prolific offenders has come to haunt the executive, which promised to deliver cuts as part of its drive against anti-social behaviour.

"I am not prepared to write off any young person in Scotland," said Ms Jamieson. "But neither am I prepared to allow a young person's behaviour to write off a community."

Between 2003 and 2004, 3024 girls and 14,061 boys were referred to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration.

Last year, the number of girls referred increased to 4611 and boys rose to 16,579.

Academics believe much of this increase is because of the executive's well-intentioned focus on young offending. The more high-profile it becomes, the more sanctions it includes and the greater the risk of being reported to the authorities.

"There is a danger of net-widening - drawing children into the formal system unnecessarily," said Bill Whyte, director of the Criminal Justice Social Work Development Centre for Scotland at Edinburgh University. "There is a real risk that we will start to label young people as anti-social, but really these are children who are struggling and need support. Research indicates that many of them will simply grow out of offending behaviour without any intervention. But there is another group of young offenders who we need to pick up on much earlier to prevent them from entering into a life of crime.

"Asbos are generally not seen as the most appropriate measure. They are a very blunt tool and are rightly seen as a last resort, to be used only when everything else has failed. The real question is, what kind of help are the young people getting?"

At 13, Kevin left school and refused to go back. When asked why, he explains he was stabbed in the back as part of a gang turf war.

Soon afterwards, he was sent to the children's panel for arriving at his mother's house with a bag of cannabis worth £70.

He cannot remember how many times he has been arrested. Most of his offences have involved shoplifting and breaches of the peace, but his repertoire also includes house-breaking and assault.

"If the politicians want to make any difference to young people's behaviour they should start fixing up the community halls and sorting out things for young people to do," he said. "For me, a lot of it was about being bored. I missed my da' but I can't blame it on that. I probably would not be like I am now if I had not gone into foster care, though. I moved round different families and schools. The children's units made me worse, too.

"Includem has really helped, though. I've got my own house now and if I feel like self-harming I just call them and they send someone out to see me."

Kevin is about to start a detox programme and has signed up for a training course in painting and decorating. He has cut down on how much he drinks and spends more time with his family. For him, the fact that adults, social workers and care staff may not have understood him in the past has become part of the genesis of his criminal history.

Intensive support means at least someone is now listening. As he carries on talking in the babble of his former gang-speak, his Includem care worker smiles and says he is gradually learning to translate.



Name and shame people who cause chaos; invest more of the proceeds of crime in youth facilities; establish community courts which will introduce new community programmes where offenders will pay something back; and double community wardens in Scotland.


A key measure in tackling anti-social behaviour is to clamp down on the sale of alcohol to under-age Scots, says the SNP. More visible police presence on local streets is needed, which should deter crime and reduce incidents of anti-social behaviour.


Put 1500 more police officers out in to the communities across Scotland to provide a visible deterrent; other measures would include putting persistent offenders over the age of 14 before the youth court; and spending £100m a year on drug rehabilitation.

Lib Dem

Involve young people in Youth Panels - which have been very successful in New York - to work alongside a rejuvenated Children's Hearings System. Put major investment into alternative activities, focusing on new sports and leisure facilities.


Investment in youth work and community facilities to reinforce the positive behaviour of most young people, and genuine support for the most vulnerable is key. Aim to be as tough as possible on the causes of crime rather than persistently demonising young people.


Introduce community youth forums across Scotland to identify what amenities are needed in each local area. Local youth facilities would also be placed in all communities, run by young people, and would tackle bullying through education, prevention and treatment.


Solidarity would plan to introduce a bill in the next parliament that bans the use of air guns and pellet guns, except for use in gun clubs or for legitimate pest-control purposes. In 2005-06, air guns were used in 79% of vandalism offences.

Senior Citizens Unity Party

"All parties have to get together on this issue. It's a societal problem at grass-roots level. There is a yob culture and youngsters have a lack of respect for their elders. It's not just about putting more police on the streets, but about changing youngsters' attitudes, too."