Letters: Prison numbers

Make space in prisons by clearing out women and the mentally ill
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Sir: The inquest jury's damning verdict on the tragic death of teenage prisoner Anne Marie Bates, adds to the growing body of evidence about jails that are "not fit for purpose" ("The Death Sentence", 26 July).

In 2001, Anne Marie, 19, who had three children, was sent to Brockhill Prison, Worcestershire, on remand for a non-violent offence. Weeks later, despite being owed a legal duty of care, Ms Bates was found hanged in her cell.

Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, reporting on HMP Brockhill in 2005, said the night sanitation system was "grossly inadequate, with women on occasions reduced to using plastic bags and rubbish bins". The absolute nature of Article 3 requires that no one should be exposed to inhumane or degrading treatment. It is essential that Chief Inspector's honest reporting on human-rights abuses in our prisons is allowed to continue, but deeply worrying that the Home Secretary John Reid intends to abolish the post of Chief Inspector in 2008.

Last week, the Home Secretary announced 8,000 extra prison places. He also suggested certain prisoners, in particular, women and the mentally ill, should not be in jail, and that measures would be taken to reduce their number. But if he truly wants to keep women and mentally ill offenders out of prison, he must turn words into action. The net result would be to release tens of thousands of prison places, which would obviate the need to provide 8,000 extra places.

If Mr Reid fails to take action to keep women and the mentally ill out of jail, it will increase the likelihood of further tragedies such as the unnecessary death of the vulnerable young mother, Anne Marie Bates.



Violence and a core immorality

Sir: My article "Who is the Real Terrorist in the Middle East?" (26 July) was about the relationship between stifling debate about the immoral core of the Jewish state and the cycle of hatred and violence, the unfolding of which we witness. I make one additional point.

The ideology of the Jewish state means all existing and future descendants of Jewish people worldwide have more rights in historic Palestine than the indigenous Arabs. This makes Israel unique. What other state decrees that many of its own citizens have less stake than millions of potential immigrants?

The colonisation of Palestine is also unique: discussion of this past injustice is inadmissible lest it expose the present immoral statehood. Yet, Israel is hailed as a paragon of democracy in the Middle East. How does Israel get away with its ethnocratic statehood despite its moral resemblance to apartheid-era South-Africa?

In the article, I argued that conscious or unconscious instigation of violence which nourishes victim mentality helps to stir debate away from the core immorality of the Jewish state. I should also emphasis that many non-Israeli Jews, most of whom are perfectly happy as minorities in their respective states, willingly volunteer as missionaries of this victim narrative.

When they are perceived as apologists for Israeli actions justified in the Jewish name, and encounter hostility, this reaction again helps to reinforce their victim narrative.



Sir: I was saddened to read Dominic Lawson's article (Comment, 28 July). Yet again, anyone daring to criticise Israeli policies is immediately shackled with a charge of anti-Semitism. Worse, every time anyone speaks out against what Israel is doing, the collective sense of guilt is immediately piled on the speaker with a reference to the Holocaust.

The Palestinian people and Arabs had nothing to do with the Holocaust. The murderous intent against the Jewish people is a European construct. It has never ceased to amaze me that the Jewish people, having suffering the horrors that they did, can mete such treatment out to others weaker than themselves.

Mr Lawson says Israel was created on land lived in by the Jews 2,000 years ago. He says there were 500,000 Palestinians living there in 1947 and now there are 1,500,000. This is a land claimed by two peoples. There lies endless conflict.

The time has come to stop arguments about history. Israel and the United States need to ensure Palestinians are given their independent state, treated as equal partners in peace and given opportunities to rebuild their country and to do business. When the Palestinians have something to live for, they would become too busy making a decent living to worry about anything else. And Hizbollah would no longer have any legitimacy.

Enough is enough. Guns do not work. Talking does.



Sir: The tragedy in Lebanon and the slaughter of many innocent children is not simply because of the kidnapping of two soldiers on the Lebanese border, or of one soldier in Gaza or indeed several hundred terrorists and Arab civilians in Israeli prisons.

It is all related to the illegal occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territories, in contravention of the UN Security Council resolution and Israeli's seizure of part of the sovereign territory of Syria. Whether it be a UN, EU, Nato, or even an Israeli force in southern Lebanon it will not guarantee peace but be merely a short-term solution leading to further terrorist attacks against that force.

The US and now, sadly, the UK, are increasingly detested by the world's one billion Muslims because they are seen to be supporting the use of excessive force by Israel. There must be an overall solution which will guarantee the security and sovereignty of Israel and bring about the withdrawal of Israel from the Golan Heights and the West Bank. This would restore USA and UK credibility in the Islamic world.

Without such an overall settlement, terrorism will continue in the many nations where where there are large Islamic communities.



Sir: Russell Razzaque responds to the assault on Lebanon, its people and infrastructure, as a further attack on a Muslim community (Comment, 28 July). He fails to see the Christian community which is an integral part of Lebanese society, targeted and suffering as are other citizens of that country.

Lebanon is the only pluralist state in the region, to be admired for its recovery after a sectarian civil war, which was also inspired and promoted by outside forces. It is perhaps as an island of pluralism that the country now finds itself under assault, pinned between the two rival theocracies of the Middle East.



Soya production the ethical way

Sir: The appalling damage inflicted on the Amazon rainforest with soya production makes it easy to demonise the soya bean (article, 26 July). But it is possible to grow soya, even in Brazil, without compromising ethics.

The arguments for producing soya responsibly are overwhelming. The benefits to health are immense, from its cholesterol-lowering properties, via its high-value protein status, to its impact on reducing fat. And 66 per cent of worldwide soya production is for animal feed and only 14 per cent for humans.

As the European market leader in natural soya products, we uses Brazilian soya bean from family farms with whom we have direct contact far from the scene of this eco-crime. It is possible to love soya and the planet.



Reactor news is not news

Sir: It was interesting to read the article "Asian arms race heats up as Pakistan builds new reactor [at Khushab] " (25 July).

In April 1994, I visited the Khushab reactor site and was briefed on the project. Its purpose was made clear. In May 1998, the defence analyst Andrew Koch wrote: "Pakistan has built ... a 40MW heavy-water reactor at Khushab. The reactor, which began operating this year ... could also produce tritium for boosted nuclear weapons or hydrogen bomb-boosted nuclear weapons or a hydrogen bomb ..."

The Khushab project has been common knowledge for many years. There has been no attempt to disguise its location or function. The only inexplicable aspect of its development is the supposed dramatic revelation of its existence in July 2006.

This happens when lobbying in Washington for a US-Indian nuclear nexus is at its height. And it is perhaps not irrelevant that the report was bylined Delhi.



Wrong message about Christians

Sir: I am saddened and angered at the advertisement from the Gay Police Association (Diversity supplement, 29 June).

An uninformed reader may assume Christian teaching and, by extension, Christian practice, were virulently homophobic, due to the juxtaposition of the Bible and a pool of blood. The biblical injunction to love thy neighbour clearly prohibits acts of hatred against anyone, including homosexuals.

Homophobia, that is, hatred of those whose sexual orientation is toward those of the same gender, is wrong. Christians can stand with the Gay Police Association in deploring it.

According to Scripture, homosexual practice is wrong, though it is not a sin to be tempted in such a way, any more than it is a sin for a heterosexual person to be tempted to adultery or fornication.

What this means is that the Christian is to love a practising homosexual in the same way he is to love any other of his "neighbours", at the same time deploring his rejection of God's command.

I am sure there are isolated individuals, claiming to be Christians, who are guilty of malicious homophobic attacks. They are not the majority, and they are acting contrary to Scripture. It is not right that the actions of the misguided few should taint the good name of the many.

One could be forgiven for thinking that only Christians are homophobic. There is no indication that people of other religions can be homophobic, yet one only has to look at Muslim Saudi Arabia or Hindu India, where homosexuality is illegal, to see that homophobia is not solely the preserve of supposed Christians.



The burden of migrant pupils

Sir: The story "26pupils. 26 languages. One lesson for Britain" (26 July), is indeed cause for celebration at the excellent school involved.

As a one-time governor of an international school in Africa, where my wife taught and my children were pupils, I agree that multicultural education at its best can be a heady mix.

But there is a downside to this in Britain today. The burgeoning numbers of unanticipated special-needs pupils who have to be absorbed over short time-scales is for schools an immense and unbudgeted problem, for which local council-tax payers have to pick up the bill.

The unforeseen extra burden on health services inevitably drives them yet further into crisis.



Bake real bread

Sir: If the Government is serious about promoting health ("The Government can make us healthier", 27 July), as opposed to just sounding off, it could subsidise retail sales of wholemeal bread, provided it was baked in traditional style rather than by the Chorleywood process, which creates a weird, spongy, claggy texture.



Sizeable problem

Sir: What bright spark at Royal Mail came up with the ridiculous idea, to be introduced in August, of basing postal charges on a complicated and time-consuming calculation based on a combination of letter/package size, weight and thickness rather than the system used throughout the world based on weight? Imagine the queues at Christmas as people try to buy stamps for all those different-sized card envelopes.



It's all different

Sir: Good that someone is having a go at the mispronunciations of the BBC and others (Letters, 27 July). The BBC's early attempts at difficile appeared to assume the word was Italian (dee-fee-chee-lay); later they switched to French (dee-fee-seel). More recently, I have heard diff-i-sil. The convention of using English vowel sounds to pronounce Latin words gives diff-eye-sil-i, which I hope is what Jon Snow said. In hospitals, they usually avoid the issue by calling the bug C.Diff.



In the post

Sir: To improve security, the cost of a UK passport is to rise 57 per cent within just 10 months, from £42 to £66 (article, 24 July). The main source of passport fraud is postal theft. The Passport Office refuses to use recorded delivery, citing cost, in the misguided belief that the Royal Mail is a secure delivery system. If we really want a secure passport system, look at security loopholes in distribution, not processing.



Act of a sporting hero

Sir: I do not see any reason why David Walliams should not be considered for the Sportsman of the Year award. His Channel crossing seems to have been the only British sporting achievement of any note in a year when most of our attempts to shine in the international arena have, not to put too fine a point on it, been laughable.



Farewell, TOTP

Sir: At last, TOTP has been put out of its agony after years of lingering illness. Remember Ready, Steady, Go!? More proof "Only The Good Die Young".



Gems of wisdom

Sir: Thank you for Baroness Warnock's answers to readers' questions (24 July). They are gems of wisdom, compassion and wit, a master class on how to be profound, and succinct.