Letters: Rehabilitating prisoners

Bureaucracy bars effective method of rehabilitating prisoners
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Sir: The idea that "prison works" certainly is a pernicious and persistent idea (Leading article, 26 July). As a probation officer with 30 years' experience, I know how destructive prison can be, and I recommend in my reports to courts non-custodial penalties wherever possible.

Prison is inevitable for serious offences. Probation officers used to be in a position to reduce the negative effects of prison, and the chances of the ex-prisoner re-offending, by their intervention with prisoners, particularly in the final year of their sentence.

We would get involved with the prisoner on a real, personal,caring and professional basis while they were still in prison, to make a viable release plan.

Most long-term prisoners need a place to live on release, and we would help them refer themselves to a non-government-run rehabilitative hostel, where they could stay for a year or more, such as the Langley House Trust.

Here they can learn new non-offending behaviour, how to get on with people outside, gain employment or study and so slowly be released back into mainstream society, always under the supervision of a PO they get to know and trust, but this is steady work.

This effective way of operating is banned to us by the government's insistence on filling out psychological assessment forms, making the offender feel like a specimen in a jar who is going to be "measured for risk" and is then going to be "managed", which means watched by POs and police in a mistrustful , negative way.

Under this method, we cannot get the offender to work with us to sort themselves out; they do not trust us.

The sooner Tony Blair allows us to intervene in a positive way, the sooner we will all be that bit safer from harm caused by ex-prisoners.



Muslim world must enter 21st century

Sir: The Independent front page asks "What in the name of God have we done to deserve this?" (31 July). It is probably the same question the people of Hamburg asked in 1942 when they were engulfed by a fire-storm ignited by the RAF. And the answer must be the same.

Both Germany and Lebanon voted, democratically, for totalitarian fascist movements, either to govern the country or to participate in the government.

Anybody who has seen photographs of Hizbollah youth rallies in Lebanon will know that fascist and Nazi movements, with a racist ideology at the centre of their political programme, are at the heart of much that is wrong with the Middle East and the Muslim world. The West ignores this at its peril.

Blaming the Israelis - and the Jews - for the backwardness of the Arab and Muslim world simply echoes the Nazi slogan of "Die juden sind unserer ungluck" ("The Jews are the cause of our unhappiness") and cannot be an answer to any of the Muslim world's difficulties.

Spreading the poison of anti-Semitism, now engulfing the Middle East, and now being diverted to the West by irresponsible journalists, by Muslim extremists in this country and by leftist sentimentalists will not drag the Muslim world into the 21st century which is where it belongs.

The 19th-century socialist, August Bebel, suggested that anti-Semitism was the socialism of fools. He was right then and he remains right today. Incidentally, Qana was no fire-storm.



Sir: Should the timing of the Qana attack, at 1.30am, when Hizbollah do not fire rockets because the flash gives away their position, be taken into account when the Israelis claim they were hitting a rocket-launcher site?

Israel has a history of using atrocities to goad its opponents into desperate acts so it can claim the moral high ground and start, or continue with, an "operational objective". They have done this to the Palestinians many times.

In this war, they have committed atrocity after atrocity, targeting fleeing civilians, marked Red Cross ambulances, civilian homes and Lebanon's infrastructure.

These are done with the aim of angering Hizbollah into rash acts. A Hizbollah attack on Tel Aviv would allow the Israelis to say, "See, we told you how bad they are; now let us get on with it". They have been allowed to get on with it, and get away with it, too often, whether in Lebanon or Palestine.

Israel has, they say, launched a war of self-defence. What kind of self-defence involves the killing of children on a scale of one in every three victims?

What kind of self-defence makes the most pitiful members of Lebanese society, the poor, the disabled and the infirm legitimate targets, even if you have warned them to leave?

What kind of self-defence strategy tells you that even though the only method of actually defeating your enemy is ground warfare, you will leave that as a last resort?

It is the self-defence of a nation that has lost its moral compass, a nation so enamoured with violence as the only solution to its problems, that it is no longer capable of judging what is right and what is wrong but insists it is fighting a just war.

If the images from Qana are the results of a just war, then God help us all if Israel decided to launch an unjust war.



Sir: Last year, Israel became a Mediterranean associate of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly, whose website states that its principal objective is "to foster mutual understanding among Alliance parliamentarians of the key security challenges facing the transatlantic partnership ... Assembly discussions and debates make an important contribution to the development of the consensus that must underpin Alliance policies".

When the Nato secretary general visited Israel in February 2005 (the first official visit to Israel by a serving secretary general) he stated that "building closer relations between us has become a strategic imperative" and that he was "happy to note that Israel has very recently stepped forward with a list of concrete proposals for enhancing our co-operation".

The 2005 annual Nato Air Commanders' Conference was held in Tel Aviv, the first time that the conference had been staged in Israel.

The Israeli Navy also participated in the Nato exercise, Sorbet Royale. Can anyone spot a pattern?



Sir: Israel's "Operation Samson's Pillars" (article, 29 July) draws its inspiration from Judges 16 where Samson pulls down on himself two pillars of a house crowded with 3,000 Philistine "men and women" (v27), killing many of them.

Samson said: "Let me die with the Philistines [v30]." He was a suicide killer. What are the Israelis trying to tell us?



Home inspectors to be a rare breed

Sir: I wholeheartedly agree with John Lawrance's letter of 21 July. People probably presume all surveyors would be in favour of home condition reports, but my local search shows most independent chartered surveyors will be overjoyed that their mandatory introduction will be postponed.

If HCRs were introduced, the surveyor would be liable to vendor, purchaser and any lender involved. Unless the property were perfect, it is difficult to see how the surveyor could please all parties. The projected charge which it was suggested surveyors should make was also extremely low when the work involved and the potential liability are taken into account.

The lack of qualified home inspectors is not surprising. I am an experienced chartered surveyor, but to qualify as a home inspector, I was required to completely retrain. I have now withdrawn from the course and have been informed the meagre repayment of part of the fee course will be delayed by at least a fortnight, because of the volume of withdrawals.

Qualified home inspectors are likely to become a rare breed. If the Government allows only home inspectors to produce the Energy Performance Certificate, extreme delays are likely.



Hoey will stay as our MP

Sir: There are no moves in Vauxhall Labour Party to deselect Kate Hoey as our MP, though we note that someone in Wiltshire is attempting to start a campaign (Pandora, 27 July).

Kate is a popular MP in the party and the constituency, for which she has worked hard over the past 17 years. Labour Party members will not always agree with every view expressed by their MP, but at the last reselection ballot she was unanimously nominated by all our branches.





South Africa crime fight succeeding

Sir: The issues in the article "Tourists urged to boycott South Africa over crime" (25 July), should be seen in perspective.

No one disputes that criminal activity is a major problem through the world, and particularly so in societies where there have been great disparities between rich and poor. In South Africa, the government elected in 1994 faced the unenviable task of redressing centuries of systematic exploitation and oppression, where people were denied employment and advancement through job reservation laws based on skin colour.

As the struggle for justice transformation and development continues, so does the imperative to redress the legacies of poverty and disease, unemployment and a shortage of skills. South Africa has made tremendous strides in social services, helped by stable government and a booming economy, but crime remains a serious challenge and concern to which the government and the private sector are devoting increasing resources.

These efforts are showing results: statistics prove crime has decreased in Johannesburg during the past year; last month, in a six-month drive in Gauteng province, police response and visibility were strengthened.

Business and international groups are entirely confident about South Africa's ability to hold a superb World Cup in 2010, and you would be doing a disservice to discourage people from planning the trip of a lifetime.

We hope your readers will have been able to read between the lines and we cordially invite all to visit one of the most beautiful and hospitable countries to see things for yourselves.



No evidence found in Lawrence case

Sir: The article, "Lawrence suspects may face stabbing charge" (28 July), claims the Crown Prosecution Service failed to consider fully whether the suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case could be charged with conspiracy to stab or conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm. That is not the case.

The Metropolitan Police did submit to the CPS a detailed report which focused on other incidents and assaults in South-east London. The CPS gave full consideration to it to assess whether there was evidence to bring charges, including charges of conspiracy. But it was clear there was no evidence.

If the police do present any new evidence to us about the Stephen Lawrence murder case we will consider it as a matter of priority.



Costly politics

Sir: In the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (article, 31 July), each parliamentary candidate has to pay a $250 registration fee and each presidential candidate is required to pay a non-refundable registration fee of $50,000 (£27,000). What possible hope is there of a free and democratic election under these circumstances?



The way they say it

Sir: On the subject of BBC mispronunciation (Letters, 31 July), can we ask announcers to apply awareness of pronunciations outside the South-east? Most regular offences are "Cah-sul-ford" for Castleford (Cas a hard pronunciation, Cass not Carss) and where does Cuvv-entry exist? Coventry is a city in the West Midlands and it is Cov ... as in hover.



Open borders

Sir: Deborah Orr's analysis of immigration controls is correct ("Open borders are the only alternative to the erection of a repressive fortress state", Comment, 26 July). Poverty and inequality have always driven migration, and as long as it continues, no control will prevent it. We talk of "our" country or "their" country, but in the 21st century it is everybody's world.



Road to the future?

Sir: In response to Ken Cohen's idea for a competition for new electricity generating ideas (Letters, 31 July), I have an entry. Motorways, being black, absorb terrific amounts of heat, especially on hot days. Could we not underlay pipes or metal strips, to harness that heat and turn it into electricity? It may generate enough for the lights.



No woolly thinkers

Sir: I was amazed to read Charles Nevin's reference about sheep rolling over cattle grids (Opinion, 31 July). When I lived in the Rhondda Valleys 30 years ago, the sheep there had long mastered that skill. They could also unlatch garden gates to feast on flowers. That is what I told my gardener father when he accused me of leaving the gate open.



Stumped by umpires

Sir: Here on Sunday at Bovey Tracey cricket ground I saw a friendly between Bovey and Taunton, marred by both umpires. The first had a mobile phone, and wore what seemed to be a black and yellow dress with the numeral 99 on the back. The second, in black T-shirt, shorts, and a red baseball cap was barefoot and signalled fours and sixes in the usual manner but with a short, Crouch-like dance. Is this what cricket is coming to ?



Silent whistle

Sir: Yes, we remember Ready, Steady, Go! (Letters, 29 July), but the loss of The Old Grey Whistle Test was far greater.