Letters: Employing prisoners

Employment for prisoners
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Ken Clarke's proposal to encourage private firms to employ prisoners at a realistic wage is an exciting one as its benefits could be wide – not only for the prisoner, but for their families (report, 5 October). These families are statistically more likely to be on low incomes, but often subsidise the prisoner's basic amenities, such as writing paper, stamps and phone calls.

Action for Prisoners' Families firmly believes that if Mr Clarke's proposals were an integral part of a prison sentence the result would be improved outcomes in homelessness (a wage would allow a prisoner to contribute to the rent of the family's home and mean that resettling prisoners are less likely to need to be housed at the expense of local authorities), economic security (the prisoner can contribute to household bills), and relationships with their partner and children, as well as easing the burden on the taxpayer.

Mr Clarke is right – as the penal reform movement and the prison inspectorate have long pointed out – the lack of meaningful activity in our system contributes to a cycle of impoverishment that the taxpayer pays for long after the prisoner has finished serving his sentence.

Jessica Berens

Communications Manager, Action For Prisoners' Families,

London SW15

After so many years of populist belief among politicians that prison is some sort of social dustbin, it is a relief to know now that the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, acknowledges that prison does not work.

But in applauding his suggestions to reduce the high levels of recidivism (leading article, 6 October), you omit to mention two additional moves which would bring further benefits to society generally and to many prisoners individually.

First, the rate of illiteracy among prisoners is unacceptably high, and teaching this captive audience to read and write to agreed standards, with rewards for attendance at classes, would enable many to play a much fuller part in society on their release.

Second, Mr Clarke should campaign to give prisoners the vote. This would ensure that politicians of all persuasions would take the trouble, at least at election time, to visit their new constituents. Law-makers would then have a far better idea of current conditions in prison, and would learn the extent to which prison can be made to work after all.

Christopher Martin

Kingon Langley, Wiltshire

The front page story "Prison works!" (4 October) shows that it is possible to turn people's lives around and get them off drugs. But people do not have to be sent to prison to get off drugs as this is the most expensive and least successful way of dealing with addiction. The drug treatment given to prisoners worked; prison didn't. There are hundreds of vacant drug-rehabilitation beds in the community because people can't get the funding. Too often the only way people can get into residential drug treatment is by offending. This is lunacy. Drug treatment is best delivered in the community, not in prison.

Frances Crook

Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform,

London N1

The Big Society needs you

In this age of austerity we have to rebalance the relationship between the state and society ("Citizen Dave" 7 October). Big Society means genuine local empowerment, not public services on the cheap.

This is not a one-size-fits-all solution and there will be different ideas and models across the country. But to encourage these changes we need genuine decentralisation from central government. That means shifting power to communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.

In Westminster, we are looking to expand volunteering in areas such as libraries, parks and parenting services.

To do this we will need to tap into the know-how, skills and resourcefulness of individuals, community groups, social enterprises and the private sector to drive this change forward.

We believe this will release the potential of our citizens to improve their quality of life while fostering a greater sense of community responsibility.

Cllr Colin Barrow

Leader, Westminster City Council

Government ministers seem unable to deliver a clear explanation of "the Big Society". From what I see, it seems to mean: "Don't wait for the Government to improve the world – get out there and do it yourself!"

Even as a non-Tory, I am right behind this sentiment. In everything from litter to policing we are too passive – we expect someone else to deliver the solution. Well, they won't. But if enough of us contribute, there is nothing we can't do. If you see a beer can on the street, don't bemoan the council – pick it up. If you see an anti-social act – intervene.

JFK meant much the same when he said: "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." His appeal was to patriotism and sacrifice, which perhaps no longer play well. But self help can still be uplifting because it is empowering – and it could actually work.

Bob Grayson


Pedants need to loosen up

Richard Lamb ("God Save the Queen's English", 7 October) lays down the law about the use of English, telling us what "should be avoided". But, as usual, a ragbag of ad hoc dictates and personal gripes is the result.

Speech simply doesn't need to be as watertight as a legal contract. Professor Lamb's examples: "The room needs cleaning badly" would not be ambiguous in any situation where it was actually spoken (a room would only need to be ineffectively cleaned as part of a demonstration of poor housekeeping). "Mary told Jane that she was pregnant" would be clear enough to anyone who knew Mary and Jane. ("Jane. You are pregnant!" – only likely if it's Dr Mary making a diagnosis, surely?) Most "ambiguities" cited by pedants are of the same order; no one really thinks that "I refute that allegation" actually constitutes a refutation, and nobody is ever truly confused about what is meant by "disinterested" when the correct word is "uninterested", or when someone says "literally", just for emphasis.

Almost the only word that really does cause uncertainty is "fulsome". All sorts of calculations are needed before one can guess whether "fulsome praise" means nauseating flattery or generous appreciation.

Paul Edwards


Your correspondents have remarked on the parenthetic use of "like" in youthful conversation (letters, 8 October). This must surely be no more than a short-lived fashion which will soon give way to some fresh linguistic novelty.

What has not been commented upon is the sudden acceptance of the conjunctive use of "like", as in "It looks like British grammar has taken another downwards lurch". Some two years ago, such usage was regarded as illiterate, or at best American. Now it is seen and heard widely on the BBC as well as in these columns, among others. Only the most fastidious writers still avoid it. What has brought about this abrupt capitulation?

Richard Harvey

Frating Abbey, Essex

Hopes for a digital archive

Rhodri Marsden (Cyberclinic, 6 October) is right to draw attention to the difficulties of archiving digital publications, and to say that publishers' permission is needed to archive a website at present. But the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is currently asking the public for their views on a proposed regulation which would allow the five Legal Deposit Libraries in the UK (not just the British Library) to collect, archive and make available in their buildings not only websites but also other UK electronic publications, without the need to ask permission from publishers: see www.culture.gov.uk/consultations/7449.aspx

Andrew Green

Librarian, National Library of Wales,


Lottery losers

Dianne Thompson's defence of the National Lottery (Letters, 6 October) does not address the fundamental question of whether it is in the social interest for the Government to encourage gambling. In a rational society, the good causes helped by the Lottery would be supported by voluntary subscription and progressive taxation. There could be a national fund, managed by an independent board, to distribute proceeds.

This would be more straightforward than the Lottery, which taxes people without their realising it and which bears unduly on people in lower-income groups.

Gordon Thynne

Coulsdon, Surrey

Funny lady?

Margaret Thatcher was indeed notorious for not understanding the jokes her speechwriters wrote for her (Andy McSmith, 6 October). But it is unlikely that she had never heard of Christopher Fry's play The Lady's not for Burning, which ran for several months in London in 1949 when she and Denis were courting and used to go to the theatre. Many in the hall at Brighton in 1980 who heard her declare "The lady's not for turning" may not have got the reference; but she knew it. Unlike Monty Python, it was a reference from her youth.

John Campbell

London W11

Yuletide gripe

In the Concise Crossword 7479 of 6 October one clue read "Filling for Christmas pastries". Annually there is a justified protest against retailers who start their Christmas promotions before the beginning of December or even Bonfire Night. Cannot The Independent observe some restraint in the crossword clues?

Peter Erridge

East Grinstead, West Sussex

Perspectives on the British seaside

Working-class pleasures

Joan Smith asks "Who'd want to be beside the seaside?" (7 October), but most of her objections seem to stem from the fact that the British working-classes have different tastes to her own. It is true that fried food has become a seaside tradition and is very unhealthy, but who doesn't like to indulge themselves on holiday? Maybe Joan has sampled tempura in Michelin-starred restaurants? If so, she would be eating a dish every bit as deep-fried and unhealthy as a stodgy promenade doughnut. Joan's praise of the "unpretentious establishments" in Spain that serve freshly caught fish says more about Joan herself than it does about the Spanish culture.

As for British B&Bs being inferior to their European counterparts, I suggest that a full English breakfast trumps a petit déjeuner any day of the week.

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire

The upside of rundown towns

Much of what Joan Smith says is no doubt true about rundown seaside towns such as Hastings, but there is another way of looking at it. In Hastings, housing is still reasonably cheap so local people are not forced out of the market. In the summer, it is very easy to find a piece of deserted beach; we have some marvelous pubs and restaurants, are surrounded by beautiful countryside and boast a thriving arts community. We are barely more than an hour from ports and airports and it's fairly easy and cheap to get up to London for the day on the train.

I am quite happy with this and, while we have our own particular problems and much could be improved, there are far worse places to live.

Tim Miles

Hastings, East Sussex