Letters: Prisons

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Prisons that make no attempt to reform criminals

Sir: Further to Will Watson's letter of 1 August ("Bureaucracy bars effective method of rehabilitating prisoners"), prison does work if it is regarded solely as a place of detention for prisoners, subjecting them to a regime which deprives them of of self-respect. On the other hand, if prison is meant to be a place of rehabilitation, where prisoners are helped to change into law-abiding individuals who want to take their rightful place in society, then prisons are an absolute failure.

I recently was imprisoned for 84 days. My experience in two prisons confirms that prisons are a disaster area. A tiny minority of prison officers show an interest in the welfare and progress of prisoners. The overwhelming majority of officers simply lock and unlock cells, act as escorts and have as little reaction with prisoners as possible. Another small minority are simply evil, addressing prisoners in the foulest of language, setting prisoner against prisoner and treating them as animals.

The Prison Officers' Association rules the roost. You can ignore what is said by ministers, civil servants and governors. Rights which prisoners have in law are simply ignored if they are inconvenient for the officers.

In the first prison I shared a cell with a man in his mid-twenties who could neither read nor write nor cope with all the interviews with different departments and their never-ending paperwork. He had been sent to prison for failing to complete a previous community sentence. He had no idea of his rights and he received no help of any kind from the prison system. He was exactly the type of prisoner the system wanted.

I met a good number of men who should never have been in prison, especially young men who had committed drug-associated offences. Imprisoning them was worse than simply a waste of time. They had what seemed like free access to the drug of their choice. There was no attempt at rehabilitation, or helping them to break their habit.

Many of them shared very low levels of education, though not necessarily of intelligence. Many of them came from deprived backgrounds of financial poverty, cultural poverty, no expectation to do well or succeed in anything. Their crying need was for help, for care and interest, for tough love. In prison they received the opposite.

Our prisons are a disaster, and they demand root-and-branch reform.



This time, the US is egging Israel on

Sir: Robert Fisk, in Monday's Independent, fingers Israel as the US's puppetmaster in the latest Middle Eastern horror. As a Christian child of British parents, I lived in Haifa, now in Hizbollah rocket range of where Mr Fisk currently lives, in Israeli artillery and aircraft range, and I think he has it exactly the wrong way round.

What is unfolding now is certainly unprecedented. Since 1948, Israel has acted, mostly with US approval, sometimes with its disapproval, but always independently. It was usually possible to dismiss Arab suspicions that the two were acting in concert as paranoia, albeit understandable. Not any more.

But the question is, who is the organ grinder and who the monkey? For the first time, in another first to go along with the many firsts of this presidency, a US administration has been actively egging the Israelis on. Bush as much as acknowledged it in describing what is going on in Lebanon as just another part of the "war on terror". It is true that this is how Sharon characterised his actions, but Sharon was the driver of his own juggernaut.

The US now has no more troops to spare in its global "war on terror", so this administration is in effect using the Israeli armed forces as its proxies in its grudge match with Iran and Syria, just as the Israelis have used Lebanese militias in the past.

Bolton and Rice speak for the Israelis because the Israelis are fighting for Bush. Perhaps they don't know it; perhaps they do know it but don't care, because they see their cause as one. They should care; because this administration is not their friend. This administration has encouraged this Israel to go as mad as itself. And, as we know, those whom the gods wish to destroy ...



Sir: Last month I celebrated my eightieth birthday. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to live so long. I survived four years in Vienna under Nazi rule, and three years in concentration camps. When I was liberated in Germany I never thought of revenge, all I wanted was to start a new life in my own country. It never entered my mind to go among Germans and blow them up or revenge myself in any way.

I have been here now for 58 years. In spite of everything we have built a beautiful, vibrant country. Israel has been a state for all these years and still a great part of the world debates whether to recognise us or not. No other country's right to exist is ever questioned; why us?

I know there are many reasons that I could name, but hatred is the driving force. Anti- Semitism is stronger than ever, even if is called by another name like anti-Zionism. Our history has been so twisted out of shape that people have forgotten that the Jews in the British occupied Palestine were called Palestinians. When I was a child in Vienna, people used to shout at us "Jews to Palestine." Now that I have lived the greater part of my life here, it seems I still have no right to my own country. Where can I go? I certainly can't go back to Vienna, which is a huge cemetery for me: almost everybody I knew there was murdered.

I am very sad these days. It seems as if there will be never peace for us. I am not worried about myself, but I am thinking of my children and grandchildren and the kind of a future they are facing. I wish I had an answer.



Sir: Like many Jews around the world I am disappointed and distressed by the actions in Lebanon by Israel in reaction to Hizbollah. However, I grow increasingly concerned by the rhetoric of many of those who share my view that Israel is acting irresponsibly. Both Colum Gallivan and Don Adcock (letters, 7 August) positively relish the comparison of Zionism with Nazism. This comparison is completely illegitimate.

While it is true that Israeli Arabs do suffer certain disadvantages, they form the majority of the 1.5 million non-Jews living in Israel with the same constitutional rights as Jews; they can vote and are not being systematically exterminated.

To describe Zionism as a racist ideology on the same lines as Nazism is disgraceful even to a Jew like me who is not a "Zionist". Mainstream secular Zionism, the type that led to the creation of the state of Israel, became prominent in 19th century Russia. Two thousand years of persecution and the widespread bloodshed of Jews in Eastern Europe the 19th-century pogroms led many to justifiably believe that they would never feel safe living in Eastern Europe. The movement was that of the poor and the oppressed, not one stemming from concepts of racial superiority.

There is simply no reason to compare Zionism with Nazism other than to cause offence. This for many Jews undermines the just criticism of the attacks on Lebanon and the mistreatment of the Palestinians.



Sir: Messrs Blair, Bush and Olmert all talk longingly about re-ordering the Middle East and yet none of them seems capable of seeing that their policy of more war-war and less jaw-jaw is doing precisely that.

Iraq is about to split into three with the largest, resource-rich south tied spiritually to Iran; the Lebanese and Palestinians are turning in increasing numbers to Hizbollah and Hamas; pro-Western Arab leaders are becoming ever more out of step with their people with the consequences yet to be seen.

No doubt this is not how the Anglo-American-Israeli alliance wants to see the pieces re- arranged, but as I learnt in history O-level at school, war is the most radical and unpredictable cause of change in society.



Sir: I agree with your front page headline "One simple message: ceasefire now" (5 August). It is already clear that the Israeli army cannot eliminate Hizbollah while Hizbollah cannot destroy the Israeli army. Therefore there has to be a ceasefire sometime. The sooner the ceasefire occurs the sooner the killing and destruction will stop.



Sir: The "collateral" damage in wars, in the Middle East or elsewhere, is bad enough, but what about the environmental cost, all those fuel-guzzling tanks rolling around, and aircraft flying as and when they please? I believe that my feeble attempts at countering climate change are wiped out with just one missile launch.



No exemption for 'rural' gas-guzzlers

Sir: Two important points should be included in the report by the Environment Audit Committee which proposes a much wider range of car taxes related to CO2 emissions (report, 7 August).

First is the risk that over-generous treatment of small cars will encourage families to add an extra "runabout" to the domestic fleet. But far more serious is the inevitable outcry that big 4x4s owned by rural dwellers be exempt from higher vehicle taxes. The vast majority of "rural" 4x4s are lifestyle vehicles owned by wealthy commuters. If we are serious about CO2 reduction we must fundamentally reconsider planning policies which permit rural housing developments targeted at long-distance commuters. We definitely need swingeing taxes on the grotesquely inefficient vehicles which seem to go with them.



Inhuman behaviour in City offices

Sir: I would like to extend my warmest feelings towards Helen Green. It appears that she not only had to endure the outrageous, uncivilised, juvenile and arrogant jealousies of other women in her City office, but she also has to endure them from some readers of The Independent too (Polly Courtney's letter, 8 August).

It is time women who fancy themselves as somehow "up to" the machismo and inhuman behaviour of high-stress city jobs realised this behaviour is unacceptable in any environment and that, by colluding with it, they are betraying not only those of us who aspire to a more civilised society, but also themselves, should they ever need a little more humanity shown to them at work.



Heroin really can kill you

Sir: I write in reply to John Davison (letter, 3 August). While I agree that diamorphine (heroin) is certainly an extremely effective painkiller its use is not free of risk even in a controlled medical environment.

In addition to the constipation mentioned in Mr Davison's letter, diamorphine is prone to cause nausea and potentially fatal respiratory depression. These effects are minimised at the lowest effective dose, but as the response is individual this can be impossible to judge and can change over time. When this occurs under medical supervision these effects can be reversed or treated. Outside of this situation death due to overdose-induced respiratory depression is all too possible. The "deadly effects" of heroin are still a major concern whenever it is used.



Mothers on the Net

Sir: Thank you for publicising the risk to the site Mumsnet (report, 8 August). Mumsnet has kept me going through a difficult time, during which my child was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. The support received has been wonderful, and instrumental in improving our son's life immensely. That somebody else could be denied this support because of a feud makes me very sad indeed.



Broken crockery

Sir: Your report of 8 August goes into considerable detail about the intricacies of repairing three Chinese vases smashed when Nick Flynn fell down a flight of stairs at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. There was not a single word about Mr Flynn's condition. I note that one of the vases was worth £500,000; what is Mr Flynn's health worth?



Heavy-footed birds

Sir: If you want to know where the disappearing sparrows have gone to, come to rural Wiltshire. I recently moved to a 17th-century cottage, part thatched and part stone-roofed. Every morning at about five o'clock dozens of sparrows creep under the stone tiles and practice clog-dancing just above my head. During the day they sit on the ridge and laugh at me.



Free of plastic bags

Sir: Having followed the correspondence about supermarket carrier bags, I find it surprising that no one has, so far, mentioned the logical solution to the problem. Don't use them. Just return all your purchases to the trolley and then pack them in a couple of boxes that you keep in your car for this purpose. I have done this for some 25 years and have acquired very few of these unwanted items.



Suicidal tolerance

Sir: What planet is Yasmin Alibhai-Brown living on? ("Stop this obsessive focus on Muslims", 7 August). A group of young British Muslims slaughtered their countrymen and women on their way to work. We have every right to know what British Muslims are thinking and doing, and whether any more of them, however atypical, plan to strike again. Modern Britain must be the most suicidally tolerant country that has ever existed. Imagine what would have happened in ancient Rome if a foreign cult had set up temples in the city - then started to kill its citizens.



Welcome back

Sir: Dame Shirley Porter's return to Westminster is long overdue. I intend to propose placing my vote at the disposal of whichever party this astute businesswoman chooses, in exchange for her new Park Lane home.