Letters: Prison overcrowding

How to tackle our packed prisons

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Your leading article of 24 November correctly identifies packed jails as a critical element preventing effective rehabilitative work with prisoners.

The Chief Inspector also rightly highlights problems with short-sentence prisoners (those serving less than 12 months and not subject to statutory probation supervision on release), who often fall through the gaps, and come back through the revolving door depressingly quickly.

A further aspect of our penal system contributing to long-standing failure to address reoffending is that prison governors and their senior management teams have no performance incentive (or "business driver") to concern themselves with what happens to a short-term prisoner after discharge. Their responsibilities terminate as the offender steps out of the prison gate.

Even targets to do with employment or accommodation outcomes on release, key factors in reducing reoffending, are based upon self-reporting by the prisoner before discharge, and not verifiable. Governors should be made accountable for specified rehabilitative outcomes on release.

Name and address supplied

The writer is a civil servant in the National Offender Management Service

Thank you for your report and leading article (24 November) about our overcrowded prisons, which are, as you say, a national disgrace. The answer lies in the abolition of the Probation Order in 1992. The replacement for the Probation Order, compulsory supervision in the community, does not work.

From 1907, the Probation Order, and from 1967 parole from prison working on the same principle as probation, kept the prison population down to a manageable 45,000 by 1992, instead of the 88,000 of today.

This type of consensual supervision of offenders was popular with the courts, and the offenders, and it kept offenders safely out of prison, and usually prevented, or seriously reduced, their offending. It worked by helping the offenders to address the behaviour which lead them to break the law. Help was key. It is not possible to make offenders address their behaviour: you cannot send them to prison and tell them to change. They will, usually, respond to help.

Under the pre-1992 system, they were cajoled, persuaded and loved into working out their own salvation, with the skilled professional help of a probation officer. This system worked.

Will Watson

London N10

The evidence is that intensive community sentences reduce reoffending more than short jail sentences. An offender can spend three months doing nothing in prison and cost us £11,000 while for half that they could be on a year-long intensive sentence that forces them to address why they committed the crime.

Cutting crime, handing out true punishment and reparation, and saving tax money should unite Clarke and his party behind sentencing reform.

Roma Hooper

Director, Make Justice Work, London W1

Shame on this Government and the unions

We are revisited by unwelcome memories of the haranguing language and recalcitrant attitudes of unions and government employers, haunted by the spectres of McGregor and Scargill.

Shame on the government and shame on the unions, too. At this stage in our civilisation, such negotiation should be made at the most professional level, not couched in threats of strikes and belligerent intransigence. Now neither side can agree when they started negotiations, who has said what in or outside which lift, and although agreements "may be reached by Christmas", they will not be agreed by Wednesday.

Talk of changing the law? Balderdash. It really is simple; make both sides responsible for reaching a satisfactory compromise within a set timeframe, and if this is not reached through negotiation, then the two responsible "leaders" get fired for incompetence, and the unions and government find two new professional protagonists who can resolve the dispute, without dragging the nation into a crippling strike, at every level.

The damage nationally, at European level and internationally, will be nearly irreparable, dragging us all into a mire, now very much of our own making.

Christopher Shillinglaw

Blythburgh, Suffolk

You state in your leading article (25 November) that this is the wrong time for industrial action and it is "time for some realism" from the public sector.

I suggest that a two-year wage freeze with the promise of reduced pension rights in the offing is quite sufficiently realistic, particularly when set against the news that, as reported in The Independent (24 November), "directors and chief executives" enjoyed a median pay increase of 15 per cent last year.

If, as you exhort, we are to be "all in it together", should not the rich, who can well afford it, be giving the lead rather than those at the bottom end of the scale in both the private and public sectors?

A rise in the upper tax bracket from 50 per cent to 60 per cent would, for example, make most of us feel better and possibly less inclined to strike as well as going some way towards balancing the nation's books. And if the rich are true patriots (and therefore willing to make sacrifices for the good of the nation, as we are expected to do) then they will not flee to some tax haven but will gladly pay up.

"Divide and rule" is a centuries-old method of controlling the plebs and there is no doubt that Francis Maude and his allies, in dreaming up their half-billion cost to the nation, are doing precisely that, setting private sector against public sector while protecting their own well-upholstered interests. Your editorial simply gives credence to their efforts.

Remember the old chorus, "It's the same the whole world over,/ It's the poor what gets the blame./ It's the rich what gets the gravy/ Ain't it all a blooming shame"?

Not much change in 50 years.

Bill Grimwood

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Would it be possible for The Independent to give us readers some kind of profit-and-loss chart when it reports a Government (or otherwise) calculation about how much the next public holiday, football match or strike action is going to "cost" or, occasionally, "earn" the country? This would give us the opportunity to analyse their detailed figures properly.

In the present public-sector pensions strike debate, then, we could marvel at the way in which complicated and often conflicting matters that have short- and long-term ramifications (the loss of production for a day, workforce unity, the principle of upholding contracts etc) can be distilled in to a handily rounded figure.

If you could throw in the cigarette packet, this would help too.

John Laird

Rome, Italy

On Wednesday, we are going to see hordes of our fellow citizens join together under one glorious union umbrella taking on the rest of us. In doing so, they will in one act destroy our status as a nation showing prudent economic control over our affairs.

Yet, these hordes make up a mere 18 per cent of the total workforce of our country and look forward to some 65 per cent of the total of all pensions paid to all of us

I always thought that the union movement was for all of us who worked for our living.

Robert Jolly

Holme, Norfolk

Game, set and, what was that?

Last week, I went to see the tennis at the O2 arena in east London. I knew it would be noisy so I took ear-plugs but even with my hands over my ears the noise level in the over-frequent breaks was intolerable.

One "session" includes just one three-set singles match and is padded with a strange truncated doubles. But there are innumerable interruptions, introductions, end changes, ball changes, "ball-kid" changes, line-judge changes, presentations of awards, and every one is accompanied by ear-splitting "music".

The tennis was great, but packaged in such a way was one of the worst experiences of my life. It made it so hard to enjoy the tennis. Surely I am not the only one to find this level of sound painful. And if people often subject themselves to this intensity of sound will it damage their hearing?

David Day

Burford, Oxfordshire

Tax 'tweaks' that are sneaking up

I am a bit mystified why there has been no reporting from the mainstream media of the abolishing of certain tax credits from next April? Claimants who have found part-time employment now face having the goal-posts changed.

From April 2012, the 50+ element is to be abolished. Lost is 16hrs+ element (unless you have children or disabled), which is being replaced with a 30hr+ element.

Given that many people took part-time work (mostly the only option available), in calculating their future income, this Coalition now removes the very incentive which made it worthwhile.

It's a case of damned if you do and, now, damned if you don't.

C Munro

Liverpool

Too smart to push

Medical evidence shows home births carry a three-fold increase in the risk of newborn death compared with hospital births. First-time mothers attempting a home birth need to know that it greatly increases the risk of serious difficulties, and half will end up in hospital. This "birth culture" has led to women choosing elective caesareans to be rubbished as "too posh to push" where in fact they are, "too smart to push".

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews, Fife

A dating game

Your leading article, "In praise of compulsory history lessons" (25 November) takes the usual line when a scandal regarding the ignorance of the young breaks out; more history will solve it. But less what? Please let us know what should be removed from the curriculum to make way for more history.

John Murray

St Helens, Merseyside

Chewed out

Your correspondent, P J Hill (letter, 25 November), who criticised you for writing about "eating tinned soup" is wrong: eating soup is what we do. We drink a liquid, or we use a straw. When we eat, we use our fingers or utensils, knives, forks and spoons. We eat soup with a spoon. That's etiquette.

Jean Elliott

Upminster, Essex

The good guys

The recent report by the High Pay Commission has highlighted public concern about executive salaries and the difficulty of ordinary shareholders to do anything about it. I shall be doing more of my Christmas and other shopping at Waitrose and John Lewis where they have a much more sensible and civilised approach to pay ratios between staff and management.

Peter Medwell

Broadstairs, Kent

Even dumber

Edward Seckerson (Reviews, 24 November) writes, "For the really dumb among us, the names of our descendents [sic] flash up ... Celt, Roman, Saxon ... and so on". If they were our descendants, who will be our ancestors?

Carolyn Beckingham

Lewes, East Sussex

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