Be inspired by my burglar and keep drug addicts out of prison

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The Independent Online

I understand that it doesn't look good. But appearances can be deceptive. The National Audit Office this week released a report suggesting that nearly three-quarters of people sentenced to drug treatment and testing orders drop out before they finish their course. This looks like a pathetically poor record. But actually, under the circumstances, it's not that bad.

I understand that it doesn't look good. But appearances can be deceptive. The National Audit Office this week released a report suggesting that nearly three-quarters of people sentenced to drug treatment and testing orders drop out before they finish their course. This looks like a pathetically poor record. But actually, under the circumstances, it's not that bad.

The orders, after all, deliver a higher proportion of clean citizens than ordinary custodial sentences, and at a fraction of the cost. Sometimes, criminals emerge from prison with drug habits more entrenched than they were at the start of their sentences. Even if they don't, there are a thousand signs that the psychological and practical effect of prison is neither helpful nor empowering. If 28 per cent of people receiving custodial sentences were helped by prison, we'd celebrate. So perhaps there is room for celebrating of DTTO's as well.

Drug treatment and testing orders were introduced in 1998, in response to the close connection between drug addiction and crime, and to the rising prison populations. The idea was that the criminal would keep her freedom if she would submit to treatment, and so far 18,400 people have agreed to this offer. The theory is good. But in practice it is little wonder so few stay on the course.

The lives of addicts are chaotic, and the lives of criminal addicts even more so. Drug treatment and testing orders actually demand very little of the people. They have to be tested for drugs, of course, at regular intervals, and they have to attend courses for their addiction. But, however good their intentions, their lives remain messed up.

A couple of years ago, I caught a young woman, Tania Chavez, burgling my home. It was revealed that she had a list of burglary convictions as long as your arm. The judge, quite rightly, decided to do something new, and sentenced her to an order.

I supported the sentence, but I didn't see how it could work. Ms Chavez was homeless and jobless, and she looked very ill. Her only home, I learned, was a squat inhabited by other heroin addicts. They were her only support. The idea that she would kick drugs under those circumstances was hopelessly optimistic.

The next time I heard of Ms Chavez, was when I ran into her Portuguese court translator in an art gallery. She told me that Tania was back behind bars, for a similar crime, and back on heroin. The translator had come to know her well. She was disappointed that Ms Chavez had not thrived under this approach.

But she told me as well that Ms Chavez had stayed off drugs for months, not weeks, and that she had discovered a real desire to be free of heroin. It may not have been enough to propel her out of her miserable existence this time. But perhaps, next time, or the time after, it would,

The translator said Ms Chavez had spent her drug-free time happy and positive. She talked of getting training and work, and trying to retrieve her son from foster care. She had met a man and for a while there was romance. Then, it all went wrong.

This may not seem like an inspiring tale. But it is. For a woman so abject to even briefly understand that she had the ability to change her life, is astonishing. Giving up heroin is something that doesn't always happen first time. Next time, I hope Ms Chavez doesn't simply get sent back to a drug-filled prison. She should be given another chance to clean up.

A small stretch of the truth?

Anne Robinson, the famously hard-faced quizmistress, is sporting a new look and claims: "I haven't had surgery. I had a new make-up artist who does bigger eyes and lips." But she looks so different that her recent pronouncement on a chat show prompted nearly all of the show's viewers to call up the tabloids.

The papers obliged with a huge list of procedures they allege that trivia's stony gatekeeper has probably had. It appears that she has undergone all surgery available on the planet - except the lower eye op that would render her incapable of winking, and therefore unemployable.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Ms Robinson's strident denials recall the attempts of Mary Archer to keep her own facelift entirely secret, even though an undetectable facelift is not worth having.

It's interesting that it is the surgery that combats ageing which has the greatest stigma, while such vulgarities as whimsical breast enlargements are seen as status-enhancing. Young women going under the knife desire American-style cleavages which look obviously fake, instead of European-style ones which endeavour to look natural.

Older women seeking surgery that actually helps them to stave off the disgraceful but nevertheless powerful stigma of old age conversely go to great lengths to hide their guilty secrets. My recommendation is to save expense by simply lying about your age, but counter-intuitively. Just add seven years, and improbable sprightliness without loss of facial expression is yours.

To porn merchants: be honest about it

Richard Desmond has dropped out of the auction to buy the Telegraph titles, as the papers were proving too expensive. "We were in the process," said his spokesman, "to buy a business, not a trophy asset." Until recently, it would have been de rigueur to suggest that Mr Desmond already owns more "trophy assets" than one man can be expected to handle, what with the contents of such adult magazines as Asian Babes.

But he's not such an easy target any more. Mr Desmond recently divested himself of his sex magazines so that be could become nominally respectable enough to bid for broadsheet newspapers.

I'm afraid, though, that I prefer Mr Desmond's honestly labelled pornography to the "bits of fun" in family newspapers. In these, our children are routinely exposed to pictures of women who have been depicted for the purpose of sexual titillation. These images confirm precisely to the definition of pornography, but they are familiar to the point of ubiquity.

The adult magazines Mr Desmond has been forced by the demands of morality to disassociate himself from appears on the top shelf, seen only by those who seek it out. There is no such sense of propriety surrounding the pornography in the red tops. No wonder The Sun is so vicious to critics of Page Three girls. Mr Murdoch would hate people to twig that The Times has been owed for years by a far more shameless pornographer than Mr Desmond.

¿ I had thought, after 20 years in London, that tribal pretensions were behind me. However, news that Elvis Presley was pretty much a Scotsman fills me with specious national pride. The King's great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather came from the tiny village of Lonmay, and his closest living Scottish relative is an octogenarian jazz musician - Jack Pressley. The only mystery is why it took so long for us to work this out. The great man's dietary habits alone were a fairly definite indicator of his Caledonian roots.

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