But Home Office minister Hazel Blears argues justice must be seen to be done in the battle against what the government calls a 'culture of disrespect' - ranging from swearing, spitting and neglectful parenting to petty crime and violence.
In her first interview as the new minister for antisocial behaviour, Blears also suggested parents should enforce sensible bedtimes for children and restore 'structure' to family life, such as eating meals together. They should also be alert to what children wear following debate over teenagers wearing 'hoodies' to avoid CCTV identification.
'People feel very strongly that they don't often see justice being done,' she said.
'[When] people get fixed penalty notices I would like to see a very quick connection to community punishment, that people see being done. I want them to be identified.'
She did not want offenders 'breaking rocks' in chain gangs - one successful scheme in her Salford constituency involved youths forced to make floral hanging baskets - but visibly doing something useful.
Other plans include residential parenting courses for the most dysfunctional families and cheap leisure activities to occupy teenagers - with troublemakers expected to 'earn' the right to join in.
The crusade against yobbish behaviour, from the classroom to the street corner, reflects reports from the election campaign trail of concern about a breakdown in public order. Last week Tony Blair demanded more 'respect' in society after a shopping centre banned hooded tops because some youths use them to shield their faces from CCTV.
This week's Queen's Speech will highlight the theme, with a welfare bill emphasising the dignity and purpose of work, and crackdowns on guns and knives. But critics argue the campaign smacks of a 'back to basics'-style intrusion into private life.
Blears said it was 'very hard' to generalise about why parents were failing to control children. 'It's a combination of factors - partly it's time,' she said. 'We have all got less of it. It's also a less structured life.' The crusade for 'decency' meant practising tolerance and valuing other people. 'But the practical part is you don't spit at them, you don't swear at them, you don't huddle together in a group and intimidate people who are weaker.'
Such behaviour had spread beyond sink estates to prosperous areas, she said, citing an incident in Braintree in Essex where a gang had smashed concrete bollards through a Woolworths store roof as terrified staff cowered inside. 'That's not about poverty, that's not about deprivation,' she said. 'That was just terror.'
The plans for 'visible' community service sparked controversy yesterday. Chris Stanley, head of policy for the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said apart from the risk of vigilante action it would not deter youngsters: 'There's no evidence from anywhere that this type of thing has any deterrent effect,' he said. Restorative justice linking offenders to specific victims was more effective, he added.
Blears is considering an extension of residential parenting courses, currently offered to problem families facing eviction from council houses. She also cited the return of apprenticeships, which she argues provided important role models for behaviour. The minister backed the Bluewater shopping centre's ban on 'hoodies' and baseball caps: 'If you think that your child is wearing that kind of clothing in order to be part of a gang that wants to terrorise people, then I think you have a responsibility to sort it out.'
A violent crime reduction bill outlined in the Queen's Speech will tackle more serious assaults, reflecting the soaring use of replica firearms. Existing laws banning the marketing of knives for combat purposes are set to be far more strictly enforced, amid growing concern from the public over military-style advertising.
The bill will also introduce banning orders to exclude problem drinkers from entire city centres, stiffer penalties for buying and selling alcohol under age, and moves compelling pubs and clubs to take responsibility for drunken customers.