Letters: Perspectives on prison reform

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The Independent Online

What do the Tories believe?

At the election the Tories displayed posters saying Gordon Brown let out 200,000 criminals from jail early, thus putting the public in danger. Now we are told that Labour doubled the number of people in prison and that most would be better handled outside prison in the community.

If the Tories believe their advert, can't they be truthful and say finances are so bad that they are going to let a huge number of dangerous offenders run amok amongst us? Or is it time to own up that they lied to be elected and the truth is that the bulk of convicted criminals are actually best served by being given community service, training and jobs.

Andrew Pring, Gillingham, Dorset

Futile war

Surely an obvious way for the Government to save money (and make more of it at the same time) is to abandon the eternally pointless "war on drugs" and tax their legitimised sale, as is done with alcohol and tobacco.

Trevor Roberts, Bramford, Suffolk

Early intervention

Perhaps what should be addressed is the family background of those in prison. It is a fact that many have no families and others are illiterate. Should not more money go into making sure children do not leave school before they can read and write?

Maureen Maddock, York

College of crime

Kenneth Clarke's insight into penal reform, pointing out that prison is more costly than Eton, is most welcome. The obvious answer is to send all prisoners to Eton. As well as the cost saving, enhanced uniform, the upgrading of criminal patois with Latin and providing useful rugby skills, it could extend the social base and life experience of future governments.

Stephen Wakeford, Deal, Kent

Iraq shows up a gap in the law

The newly released documents on the legality of the Iraq war (reports, 1 July) merely underline the ambiguities that surround the scope to use force in international law.

It is important to recognise that since the creation of the United Nations the collective security arrangements promised by the Charter have not been put in place. This means that the deal made by states to curb their right to use force in exchange for protection by the Security Council and its military arm (provided for in chapter VII) has not been honoured.

The failure of the international community to create a permanent military force under the command of the Military Staff Committee means that states have been left to their own devices to assess the threats they face. Equally when the Security Council has determined to use force to uphold international peace and security, such as over Kuwait, it has to rely on the voluntary action of states.

It is hardly surprising that the Attorney General expressed doubts about the legality of the proposed action over Iraq. As it happens, Security Council resolution 1441 was drafted so ambiguously that it permitted both supporters and opponents of the war to claim that law was on their side.

The lesson is not that the war was necessarily illegal but rather that the state of international law in general and our collectively security arrangements in particular are dangerously inadequate.

John Strawson, Reader in Law, University of East London

No, the Iraq war is not history (leading article, 1 July). Iraq suffers the consequences, while Chilcot's inquiry seeks explanations. Yes, the release of official documents is important, but the volte-face by the Attorney General remains crucial.

We will never know the reasons for Lord Goldsmith's about-turn. He alone knows, but probably will never disclose why.

The Old Pals Act seems implicated, sharing common heritage and culture with his boss, Tony Blair. Moreover, the Old Pals Act vis-a-vis George W Bush and the "special relationship" with the USA seem implicated too. Imminent war ratcheted up pressure immeasurably. Hence the "dodgy dossier" and the shabby attempts at influencing public and parliamentary opinion.

Lord Goldsmith denies bowing to pressure. However, on the balance of probabilities his denial appears unconvincing. These pressures and the moral obligation on Tony Blair toward the USA were reflected in notes such as Blair's "I just do not understand this", quoted in your report. A small step then to agree what was needed to remove the legal road-blocks?

The real lesson is worrying. As PM, Tony Blair's ultimate obligation was to British interests. Despite the safeguards in British institutions, Blairite "presidential" democracy rode roughshod over all opposition and committed Britain to a war which still appears illegal.

Keith W D Jago, Brighton

Cuts threaten the honest claimants

Well done Matthew Norman (30 June). After the unfair vilification of people on long- term benefits, it was heartening to read someone speaking up on their behalf. The majority of claimants do not abuse the system, although the right-wing press would have us believe they do.

George Osborne and his like really do need a reality check. Where are the employers who will be willing to offer employment to someone who has long-term mental health problems with few skills, or long-term alcoholics and drug-addicts? As many will be able to walk from A to B and pick up a pencil, they will probably be assessed as fit for work. They will then be put on job-seeker's allowance. After a year, if they have not found employment, it is proposed that they lose their housing benefit. What happens to these vulnerable souls then?

So much for a fair, caring, compassionate society.

Gina Ellar, High Ongar, Essex

I commend you on your excellent reporting of where the public-sector cuts might fall. What is clear is that we cannot live outside our means. There will clearly be deep cuts in welfare payments, and the usual anecdotes will emerge about people who waste their welfare money on martial-arts weaponry or drugs etc rather than on their families. There will also be deep cuts in education, and many courses have been threatened, including one sought by my son. He has considerable disability and has shown immense courage and determination getting this far.

Why then does our government waste our money on useless foreign wars that cost us billions? Bombing impoverished peasants in Afghanistan is not a priority for us; our children's education is. The notion that an illiterate poor person living in a mud hut is somehow a threat to me "on the streets of London" has been utterly discredited. Our new government should break with the mendacity of the last and come clean as to why we continue to waste this money.

K Mahmood-Chohan, Watford, Hertfordshire

Given the country's financial situation, it is clear that local authorities will be at the forefront of keeping costs down and making savings. In order to safeguard vital services we will need to deliver more for less, and that means coming up with innovative new ways of working. Our two boroughs are on the brink of reaching agreement on the merger of our education services, which would be the first of its kind in the country.

This would reduce duplication, which is all too common in local government, and drive out needless cost while improving school standards. Each council would still drive local priorities. But service delivery should be done in the most efficient and effective way possible. While there are already some good examples of local authorities sharing costs, we firmly believe our radical new approach could soon become the norm across the country.

Cllr Colin Barrow, Leader Westminster City Council.

Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader, Hammersmith & Fulham Council

Where are our Eurocrats?

I am glad to see that William Hague recognises that there are too few UK civil servants at the Director level in Brussels and that he intends to do something about it. His announcement, sadly, shows little understanding about the way in which the institutions work and has even a whiff of the arrogance of the days of empire.

While it is true that there is an underrepresentation of Directors, there is an even greater shortage of more junior staff. In the past 25 years the Cabinet Office and the Foreign Office have been well aware of a lack of successful UK candidates in the entrance examinations organised by the EEC institutions, but has taken the view that if there were enough UK staff at the top level the more junior work could be carried out, more cheaply, by "native staff" and, indeed, that this would avoid the risk of career staff "going native".

That has been a great mistake. To be influential in these polyglot and multicultural institutions there is no real substitute for working over many years in junior positions and learning from colleagues what each nationality, culture and way of thinking has to offer. Visiting capital cities and staying in near identical hotels and communicating via laptops gives a false impression of cultural convergence in Europe. Understanding the ghosts of the past and what is now happening in a colleague's country is an essential foundation to effective work.

Even worse, in the early years of the century, this laid-back view about representation at more junior levels meant that when the regulations relating to the entrance examinations were reviewed, as part of a general modernisation of staff policy by Lord Kinnock, no objections by the UK were made to a significant change. The change meant that a candidate had to be fluent in three languages (mother tongue and two other community languages) in order to be admitted to the examinations. The number of UK candidates plummeted. This change does not affect senior political-level appointments but the growing shortage of junior staff is now an urgent problem which William Hague should address.

A J Caston, Tervuren, Belgium

Worried about the insect world

Jenny Westmoreland (letter, 30 June) makes a very important point by highlighting the lack of insects in her area of Leicestershire. Here, in the middle of Cornwall, we have small fields, dense hedges, plenty of woods, traditional farming (livestock and cereals), and yet the same scarcity of insects.

By this time, in other years, I would be covered in bites and stings, but not now. The bramble flowers are now well out and at other times would would be alive with bees, butterflies, hover-flies, beetles, and a host of other species, but this year they are absent.

My garden, well stocked with a wide variety of plants, is bordered by pasture. To the best of my knowledge, none of the surrounding fields has been treated with pesticides, so it is a mystery, and a very worrying one. No ladybirds, no long-horn moths, no grass-hoppers, no lacewings, few bumble bees and very few aphids. In the house it is rare to see a fly.

The small birds are much in evidence but I suspect that is only because of the food I give them. The plight of bees is being given a good airing, and rightly so, but it seems that the whole insect world (at least in my little world) is in a bad way.

John Anderson, Grampound, Cornwall

An Arab barred from Jerusalem

Donald Macintyre's article "Barred from Jerusalem"' (29 June) highlights a method used for decades to prevent Palestinians who go for prolonged study abroad from returning to their native land. It avoids being expressly racially discriminatory, while being so in practice.

Twenty years ago Israel prevented West Bank Palestinians enjoying free access to East Jerusalem, thus also destroying the city's longstanding economic centrality to the West Bank; hence the subsequent use of Ramallah as a temporary Palestinian capital. By contrast, a Jew who has never previously set foot in Israel may go unhindered to settle on Palestinian land usurped by the Israeli state.

In the face of this process the West has been morally supine. It is no surprise that Hamas has acquired such a following among a defenceless people deserted by those Western politicians, like Tony Blair, with a clear moral responsibility to stand up or their most basic rights.

Within the past 10 days, Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has advocated the expulsion of Israel's own Palestinian citizens beyond Israel's borders (wherever these borders may actually lie). Perhaps if I were publicly to advocate the expulsion of, say, Jews from London or English from Edinburgh, our political leaders might at long last sit up and take note of the profoundly racist immorality of Israel.

David McDowall, Richmond

In your article "Barred from Jerusalem for crime of being Palestinian" you say that Murad al-Khalaf's choices were furthering his career or staying in Jerusalem. There was a third option open to him.

Arabs born in Jerusalem who remain resident in Jerusalem are entitled to claim Israeli citizenship. Relatively few take advantage of that option, but small numbers of Jerusalem Arabs become Israeli citizens each year. One reason why so few apply is that is that those who choose not to accept Israeli citizenship retain the right, as residents of the city, to participate in municipal elections and enjoy all economic, cultural and social benefits afforded to Israeli citizens such as Israel's health funds, social security services, and membership in Israel's Labour Federation.

Nevertheless in Mr Khalaf's case there would be a clear advantage in applying for Israeli citizenship, and if as is usual, he was granted it, he would not face the predicament that you describe.

Stephen Franklin, London, NW11

Fight for our outdoor Lidos

Jay Merrick's article on Saltdean Lido, as printed in the paper (1 July), focused heavily on lido failure rather than lido success; the online version gave a fuller account, with at least some reference to lidos that are doing well.

Recent years have seen some pools reopen, such as the wonderful 50-metre London Fields Lido in Hackney, and others refurbished; at Brockwell Park Lido in south London, the changing rooms have been cleverly converted into gym, spa and studio space so that all-year-round activities can dovetail with the swimming.

Our own fight to save Broomhill Pool in Ipswich will move into its ninth year this autumn and we hope the Borough Council will say "yes" to Fusion Lifestyle's bid to run this lido; but the council needs to show its commitment to this Grade II listed building by keeping its promise to contribute £1m. I hope the pool will be restored and re-opened as a heritage and tourist attraction in time for the 2012 Games.

Sally Wainman, Ipswich, Suffolk

I am surprised that Mark Strawbridge sees Conran & Partners as "gross opportunists" because of our involvement with the campaign to save Saltdean Lido. We are simply providing advice as local architects to the campaign group, in order that a viability test can be carried out to see if the pool and community centre can be operated profitably.

Its current state of disrepair, under-utilisation of the spaces within the building, lack of marketing support and no publication of pool opening times make it impossible, at this time, for anyone to claim that the building needs redevelopment. Mr Strawbridge has failed so far to convince the campaigners with his proposals, so I wish him the best of luck with his new plans.

At the moment it seems that gross opportunism is being displayed by those proposing the redevelopment plans, not us.

Paul Zara, Director, Conran & Partners, Brighton

Free at Harrods

Alice-Azania Jarvis (Notebook, 1 July) asks the question about Harrods: "Does anyone actually shop there?" To answer her, on average 50,000 customers come through our doors daily. Also, she incorrectly states that we charge for lavatories, which we stopped doing in 2002. Rather than call us "antiquated", I suggest that Ms Jarvis is the one who is out of date.

Katharine Witty, Group Director of Corporate Affairs, Harrods, London SW1

Irish scored

Paul Rowlandson (letter, 1 July) would do well not to criticise James Lawton's "shaky foundations" when his own are non-existent. Of course Ireland scored in Paris – Robbie Keane scored in the 33rd minute, thus tying the aggregate scores at 1 (away) goal each. This forced the period of extra-time, during which France scored their contentious winner.

Gerard Bell, Ascot, Berkshire