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Thursday 2 July 2009
Letters: Prison sentences
Stop handing down useless, costly prison sentences
It was with great interest that we read Robert Verkaik's article (29 June) on the performance of private prisons. As the article points out, the Government is committed to building five more private prisons to accommodate the rise in prison numbers. However there is scant evidence that prison, especially for people sentenced to less than 12 months, stops reoffending or represents value for money for the taxpayer.
This week marks the launch of Make Justice Work, a major new campaign aimed at reforming short-term prison sentencing in the UK. The prison population of England and Wales, currently at approximately 83,000, has risen massively in the last ten years, not because crime has increased but owing to a rise in the numbers of custodial sentences handed down to low-level, non-violent offenders.
New independent research published for this campaign shows that the majority of community sentences provide similar or better value for money and effectiveness than short-term prison sentences. Looking at short-sentenced drug-using offenders in 2007 alone, the research shows that society would have saved an estimated £1bn, throughout the offenders' lifetime, had they been given residential drug treatment instead of being sentenced to 12 months or less in prison. The annual cost savings for the first six years post-sentencing would have been £60m-100m.
While the moral case for locking fewer people up is compelling, it is hard evidence that proves reform is really needed. All crime has a negative impact on society and specifically the immediate victims, but locking the perpetrators up ultimately does little to prevent future offending. Short-term prison sentences have a negligible, if not negative, impact on reoffending, while costing the taxpayer an obscene amount of money. We already have the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe – we have to halt this trend before it is too late.
Roma Hooper, Director, Make Justice Work;
John Austin MP; Humfrey Malins MP;
John Leech MP; Baroness Gibson;
Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice, 2000-2002;
Lord Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 1995-2001; Sir Charles Pollard,
Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, 1991-2001; Lord Thomas of Gresford, Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General;
Stephen Bubb, CEO, ACEVO
Don't be fooled by 'voluntary' ID
The Government is trying to spin the line that ID cards will be "voluntary", a line which your leader of 1 of July echoes, but the Government is still pressing ahead with its plan to make everyone who needs to update certain "designated documents" have to register personal details on the database behind the national ID card, the National Identity Register.
In other words, when a reader of this paper renews their passport or driving licence after 2011 they will have to supply information which will go onto the National Identity Register, and pay for an ID card whether they want one or not. There will then be a fine of up to £1,000 for failing to inform the authorities of any alteration to the information you have been compelled to give, such as a change of address or name.
It is dishonest of the Government to describe the ID card scheme as now "voluntary" when you won't be able to leave your own country or drive a vehicle unless you submit your personal details to the authorities to be included on the ID card register.
MPs are going to be voting in the next few weeks on the detailed regulations underlying the ID card legislation, and the "designated documents" in particular. Concerned readers have the opportunity to contact their local MPs.
While Alan Johnson's announcement that "British citizens will never be forced to carry ID cards" is welcome, most of the media seems to have failed to pick up on the fact that enrolment on the National Identity Register is still compulsory, and indeed the entire point of the exercise.
This is not a U-turn, but a red herring. By focusing on the visible aspect – the useless piece of plastic – the Government hopes that people will believe they have won, and abandon the fight. This is dangerous.
I am upset on a visceral level that during this economic crisis, we are still choosing to waste vast quantities of money on an all-seeing computer which serves no purpose but to spy on the population, while hospitals, schools and public transport are likely to suffer cut-backs. Besides completely overturning the relationship between citizen and state, the entire scheme is already billions over-budget and none of the technology works. I intend to exercise my right to emigrate somewhere more sensible, as soon as I am financially able.
The myth of 'mass immigration'
At what point will people like Graham Howson (letter, 30 June) actually look at the cold, hard statistical facts about immigration? There has not been "mass immigration" to this country for quite some time.
It is entirely true that in some areas of the country, there are – in relative terms – a large percentage of immigrants, but he will also find large numbers of British-born people leaving, which overall makes for net emigration.
The British National Party should be questioned as to how they intend to staff schools, hospitals, public transport and many other public services without using immigrant labour.
They should also be asked how they would run Britain as a tiny country to which nobody foreign (no matter how rich or talented) is welcomed. The BNP should realise that nobody is giving jobs to immigrants instead of natives; the natives simply aren't applying, or else aren't up to the job. And this is not about top jobs: try asking any fruit farmer looking for seasonal labour.
I suspect C Collier (letter, 26 June) of hyperbole when he writes of "many thousands of illegal immigrants" in Newham – or possibly prejudice in assuming their illegality. I do not have the information needed to judge this, and neither, I suspect, has he.
I will however make one point. Until 1965, when the London County Council was replaced by the Greater London Council, the constituent parts of what is now Newham were independent county boroughs outside the boundaries of London, and the area has no justifiable claim to the traditions or history of the East End.
Unfortunately the mayor and the council prefer to obscure this part of the area's history as it does not fit well with their endless poverty lobbying and demands for grant funding.
A nation obsessed with petty rules
Deborah Orr's account of her day on South West Trains (27 June) rang a number of bells. I have had the same kind of experience dealing with railway officials, banks, shops and call centres. In many organisations the nyet factor, (anyone who visited the old USSR will remember the frustrations), is fostered, enabling small people hiding behind the rules to feel important.
The real culprits are the managers who set up the directives that make no allowance for common sense. It is an insult to their employees, tantamount to saying they are incapable of judgement, and the opposite of empowering.
Such small-mindedness is spreading. Where I live on Ashdown Forest there is a by-law forbidding use of mountain bikes. This morning I came across an elderly lady who, teaching her grandchildren to ride their bikes on a little-used track, had been harangued by a passer-by because "it was against the rules".
Recently I was chided by a member of the public who mistakenly thought I had taken a non-plastic glass into the cinema. These vignettes say it all about the type of society we are sliding into, where people somehow think such interventions principled or heroic.
Uckfield, East Sussex
Brutal military coup in Honduras
Your editorial "Guns and democracy" (30 June) claims that the Honduran army "might have actually done Honduran democracy a service" by kidnapping and forcing into exile the Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, against any current legislation.
According to your editorial, the army knows better than the people and brutal force is better than the rule of law. Is this the political doctrine you are going to espouse for the whole world from now on? Or is it only valid for countries whose governments you do not approve of?
Ambassador, Embassy of Venezuela, London SW7
I was astounded by your editorial supporting the military coup in Honduras. Anyone who knows the history of Latin America knows that the military has been an overweening presence in political life since independence and that the region has been bedevilled by coups.
Honduras has suffered brutal military rule for most of the 20th century. When civilian rule came in 1980, this young democracy was quickly turned into a garrison state by the Reagan administration, which used Honduras as a base to fight the Contra war and built military bases and mercenary training camps along the borders. Despite the return of democracy, the military were responsible for the "disappearance" of 184 people between 1980 and 1992. The victims' bodies have been exhumed in recent years.
Whatever your criticisms of President Manuel Zelaya, there is no excuse for supporting a coup in any country, but particularly not in Honduras, still a fragile democracy, where the military has an ominous history and has never been called for account for its crimes. The days of the military vetoing presidents in Honduras should be consigned to the past.
It is shameful that a leading article in The Independent should declare support for a military coup against a democratically elected president. President Zelaya's crime, apparently, was that he was "planning a referendum to give him power to alter the constitution" – that is, he was planning to allow the electorate of Honduras a democratic vote in relation to proposed constitutional change.
It should be pointed out, however, that, given the consistently free-market right-wing liberal politics of your editorials, this stance on the coup in Honduras is not a total surprise. Free-market liberals have form when it comes to support for Latin American military coups.
Can't bear it
On the same day that you publish a letter saying that "Any noun can be verbed" (30 June), your third leader states that "Ofcom must not be afraid to bear its teeth" – what a grizzly thought.
The Dean of Westminster says the Abbey is "the site of every coronation since that of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day 1066" (report, 29 June). Not quite correct, Mr Dean. Henry III was crowned at St Peter's Abbey, Gloucester (now the Cathedral) on 28 October 1216, in a rather hasty ceremony, by the Bishop of Winchester. He was later crowned at Westminster in 1220.
Dean of Gloucester
Cost of a carrier
The British aircraft carrier building programme, along with thousands of jobs, is in jeopardy because of a billion-pound overrun. It is little known that India is building a 40,000-ton super-carrier, the Vikrant, which is scheduled to go into service in 2014. The UK aid package to India over the next three years is £825m. If India can afford a super-carrier and the UK can't, why the aid to India? Mr Brown is moving money around departments. Why couldn't he move the money from overseas development to defence? The £825m would cover most of the carrier overrun.
George D Lewis
Men for feminism?
The other problem with feminism (Ellie Levenson, 1 July) is that it is bad at appealing to men as allies, even though its aims bring about what many men profoundly want, for themselves, and for the women, boys and girls that they love. So when fathers object to things like our paltry paternity leave entitlements, to label it a "feminist" issue – which it is, because women pay a high price in the workplace – is hardly a rallying cry to all parents, men and women together.
Swifts in France
I think the swifts (letter, 24 June) have sensibly decided to stay and breed in France, where we witnessed hundreds of them shrieking around the village of St Bonnet, Bordeaux. There are plenty of abandoned buildings and wonky pantiled roofs for them to make their nests in, but our obsession with repairing anything a little bit crooked has removed that option here.
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