Letters: Prisons at crisis point

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Untreated addicts fill our prisons to crisis point

Sir: Dominic Lawson ("Addiction is a moral, not a medical, problem", 6 February) is right to identify the 12-step model of addiction treatment as highly successful. It provides both abstinence and recovery. The latter is impossible without the former, which is why replacement treatment such as methadone should be no more than a means to an end.

But he contradicts himself. The dedication and single-mindedness of purpose of the active addict is not amenable to "self-discipline". The addicted person has lost control and the capacity for rational choice. Paradoxically, the tipping point for recovery involves surrender, not a triumph of the will. The police stations I work in as a doctor are full of prisoners who think that one last effort will beat the drink or the drug. They are wrong, and their delusion brings them back to my care again and again.

Here at the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust our 12-step programmes in prisons have transformed the lives of many trapped by the need to feed their addiction through crime. The pity is that they have to get a custodial sentence to access treatment that works, which is why we believe so strongly in both offering effective drug treatment as an alternative to custody, and providing long-term support to our clients when they leave our prison programmes.

Not only does the UK lock up a higher percentage of the population than most of the rest of the EU, we also fill our prisons with people who shouldn't be there. The lack of comprehensive and evidence-based addiction treatment is a major contributor to the current prison crisis. Investment in programmes such as ours is no quick fix, but in the long term would have a lasting effect, not just on the size of the prison population, but on our attitude to the disease of addiction.



Shameless amid the Iraq fiasco

Sir: As a distant but interested observer of British politics I was wondering this: is there no longer any shame?

This government forced the resignation of the heads of the BBC and suicide of a gentle man because they had the temerity to suggest that there was no real WMD threat from the oil-rich sovereign nation of Iraq, and that the government was fixing the evidence to meet an already decided policy. That is common currency now.

This invasion and occupation force has yet to present even the smallest evidence that this regime was in any way a threat to either its immediate neighbours or the world at large. (Unless, one assumes, it suddenly turned off the oil taps.)

Since the initial invasion of 2003 and subsequent occupation, the coalition forces led by the US and the UK have failed to provide adequate security for the nation. The situation has already spiralled out of their control into a bloody sectarian civil conflict for which they continue to provide no realistic security solutions and for the unleashing of which they are wholly responsible.

An additional 20,000 US troops are on their way to Iraq. Their mission? Essentially to subdue those parts of Baghdad that are outside coalition control.

It is 2007. They invaded the nation in 2003. They still don't control the whole of the capital city. That fact alone marks this whole adventure as a horrific failure.



Sir: It is extraordinary and outrageous that the man who misled this nation into wreaking such humanitarian catastrophe on the Iraqi people ("The death toll of 31 days in Iraq", 6 February), who so freely offered a "blood price" on behalf of others, has not himself paid any price whatsoever.

It says much about how we value the lives of foreigners that Tony Blair is still in Downing Street, and will leave of his own accord to live in comfortable semi-retirement.



Bird flu and intensive farms

Sir: Your leader on bird flu (5 February) is surely premature to suggest wildfowl are "presumably" responsible for bringing the virus to the farm.

The truth is we just don't know: but whatever the proximate cause of this outbreak, there is now increasing evidence that the appalling conditions in intensive poultry production could, in fact, be the original source of the deadly H5N1 bird flu. Industrial farming practices such as keeping tens of thousands of birds in cramped, warm conditions are perfect for virus mutations and infections. The international trade in hatching eggs and live poultry and the use of chicken faeces as fertiliser and incredibly as an ingredient of feed in some fish farms have all been identified as the possible transmission routes for H5N1, particularly in Asia.

In a report published last year, I called on the Government, in conjunction with the European Commission and relevant UN bodies, to initiate a crash programme of further research into these issues. As a precautionary measure the EU should halt all imports and exports of live poultry and hatching eggs.

Whilst checking the strength of the existing evidence the EU must carry out an urgent appraisal of the steps necessary to achieve an outright ban on factory farming as a way of preventing the further development and spread of deadly bird flu. Europe should also urge the World Health Organisation to prioritise free-range farming as the preferred alternative to the vile and viral intensive poultry industry.



Sir: The call in the article by your health editor, Jeremy Laurance, for the UK to consider vaccination of poultry to mitigate bird flu (5 February) makes sense.

The policy in the Netherlands is to vaccinate 90 per cent of a flock of poultry and to leave 10 per cent unprotected to identify if a virus has entered a particular flock. This policy was developed after five outbreaks of the H7N7 virus in 2003 led to the government-dictated slaughter of 30 million animals. Furthermore, unlike the United Kingdom, the vast majority of the 80 million poultry in the Netherlands are kept indoors, with only 5.5 million free-range birds.

We have a choice: another mass slaughter of poultry, or mass vaccination. Another foot-and-mouth fiasco or precautionary vaccination of 90 per cent of every individual flock of poultry in the country, whatever its size or location, free range or indoors.



Quest for bad news about London 2012

Sir: Why is it that the cycle around the Olympics is always the same? Euphoria on winning is swiftly followed by cynicism and damning criticism ("Warning over 'disturbing' state of Olympic funds", 24 January).

In this quest for bad news the difference between the direct cost of running the Olympics and the much-needed infrastructure investments, including 30,000 new homes, is overlooked and seriously prejudices views. The latter social investment will have a long-term legacy and should not be looked upon as an overhead of the 2012.

As a businessman whose raison d'être is sport it saddens me that as a nation we cannot see beyond our prejudiced noses at the transformation that London is about to undergo. London is already a pre-eminent financial centre, which has created jobs and untold wealth. The new Wembley stadium and the stunning O2 dome are major icons in the international sporting world and the Olympics will make this capital of ours the foremost city in the world for sport facilities and we should be proud of that.



A time for daft ideas and British boffins

Sir: It is encouraging to learn from Steve Connor ("Apocalypse never?", 31 January) and Julia Stuart (1 February) that serious thinking about how to cope with climate change is now under way. The question naturally arises: how can it be put into practice?

For a short time, in the late 1930s and early 1940s we, the British, did this very well. Having little else the Brits lived on their wits. In the face of formidable technological power of Nazi Germany, we developed a number of curious institutions aimed at using science and technology to win the war. The Navy's "Wheezers and Dodgers", General Hobart's 79th Armoured Division, the Post Office Research Establishment at Dollis Hill and Bletchley Park among others created frameworks within which clever and creative people - inventors - could put talent to use. Although British engineering was usually no better that German and often not as good, we made better use of what we had.

The keys to success of the curious institutions was that they were prepared to consider any idea however apparently daft, for out of every hundred ideas there might be one jewel; and that, although formally part of the public sector, they were in practice often highly independent. The boffins, for much of their time, were allowed to get away with it.

When the war ended the usual Dickensian Circumlocution Offices took over again. Daft ideas were out. The present fuss about climate change may be doing us a favour of making them fashionable again. My favourite is for large solar-powered desalination plants to be built along the seashores of hot, dry places such as North Africa, Arabia and Australia. The desalted water would be pumped inland by Stirling hot-air engines, also solar-powered, into deserts. This would allow the growth of trees and other vegetation, check the rise in sea levels and absorb much CO2.

Why not?



Artist suffers literary castration

Sir: I just got an eye-full of Mr Hari's nasty little piece of work in your comic ("The art of subverting the enlightenment", 5 February). He is of course entitled to such zealous fury, but I take exception to literary castration, especially when quotes are truncated in favour of sensationalist effect.

A case in point: "Yes [says Jake] - a good social service like the children who killed Jamie Bulger." Each of the quotes in Hari's piece suffers the same fate: taken and severed at the point of trite irresponsibility; denied their context and stripped from the serious debate in which they belong.

What a cheap fat-faced ugly four-eyed shot. Cheaper still because a lazy editor saw fit to allow a journalist to sling words like "fascist" around and permit shoddy thoughtcrimes to stand as journalism? Oh yes you did!

Anyway, we'll bump into each other, I'm sure.



PS: We know Hari is a fascist because he publicly supported the war against Iraq! So, all in all, you're the fascists ....

Sir: Unlike Johann Hari, Goya understood both the light and dark side of Enlightenment reason; he knew that "the sleep of reason produces monsters", but also that reason dreams monsters into existence.

That 19th-century icon of reason, Napoleon, ran France on rational lines, but also inflicted a savage war on Goya's native land of Spain. Blind faith in Enlightenment reason makes Johann Hari's article just as clownish as Jake and Dinos Chapman's art, the source of which does not lie in the postmodernist musings of Foucault, but in the prurience of the Victorian freak-show.



Vicious snobberies of rugby's past

Sir: David Hadfield's instructive account of the two rugbies (The Big Question, 2 February) does miss one point, the Counter-Reformation virulence of the Union authorities toward any Union follower indulging in ecumenism toward the anathematised, heretical (and lower-class) League game.

One future Conservative cabinet minister, fighting his preliminary hopeless seat at the end of the Fifties, found himself invited by the committee of the local League club to attend a match and kick off, something he did to general satisfaction before his fore-ordained electoral defeat.

Returning to the Union-playing end of Yorkshire, he found a letter instructing him that his membership had been cancelled and he was barred from future matches. The snobbishness of the Union establishment was terrific, and vicious with it.



Blair's Britain

Sir: Record bankruptcies, interest rates up, pension crisis growing, repossessions up. This government's answer is to encourage people to gamble.



Muslims on the beach

Sir:Michael Spurling (letter, 6 February) asks what male Muslim lifesavers wear on the beach. Shorts, a long-sleeve shirt and hat, like any other lifesaver. Gone are the days of a pair of Speedos, as skin cancer has changed what these important members of society wear. Every year in Australia 1,500 people die of skin cancer, and with global warming possibly it will be higher. Will we see Muslims from Bradford patrolling the wonderful beaches at Scarborough?



Turn right at the gate

Sir: In Paul Vallely's piece on gated communities (3 February) I am described as a "right-of-centre academic". I know that ideological distinctions are increasingly fluid, but such a classification misrepresents my attitude towards this issue. Does an agnostic attitude towards certain forms of "gating" automatically qualify as a right-of-centre perspective?



The new Raj?

Sir: Joseph Young (Letters, 6 February) asks about the moral difference between Gandhi asking the British to quit India and the advice to go home to India given to Shilpa Shetty on Celebrity Big Brother. Shilpa had a valid visa and did not visit these shores with the intention of ruling over the natives.



No standing-room

Sir: Returning from Bristol to Paddington on Sunday afternoon with First Great Western, I stood next to the first-class compartment in the corridor next to the toilets. When I showed my standard-class ticket to the ticket collector I was told I would have to pay the first-class fare if I wished to remain standing there. What does this say about us as a country?