The main purposes of imprisonment (letters, 2 July) are punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. What Tory hardliners and their closet colleagues in New Labour fail to understand – or wilfully ignore – is the fact that different people respond to these elements differently. For some, any kind of prison sentence is a severe punishment while others seem drawn to prison for psychological reasons – as Freud put it, they commit crimes out of a sense of guilt.
For most of us a prison sentence of even the shortest length is enough to keep us on the straight and narrow, but a few commit crimes when detection and a long sentence are almost inevitable. Prisoners who have a stable home, a network of support and real prospects of keeping or getting a job are likely to be easier to rehabilitate than those who don't have these things – as will those who don't have mental health problems or a history of drug or alcohol misuse.
Michael Howard was right to say that prison works, but should have added that, apart from keeping them off the streets for a while, it probably makes many offenders worse or has no effect on them at all. A large number of people serving short sentences will go on to re-offend but there will be some for whom being incarcerated is so traumatic that they will never re-offend. Sentencing, if it is have a chance of meeting its three aims, should fit the person, not the crime. This means moving away from New Labour's system of rigid tariffs, erosion of judicial discretion and, worst of all, indeterminate sentences in which imprisonment was essentially revenge masquerading as reform. The way forward is to suspend 80 per cent or so of all sentences for non-violent or non-sexual crime, with immediate return to prison for anyone who re-offends. This will allow for the rigorous rehabilitation of violent or sexual offenders, primarily through education and psychological treatments, co-operation with which would earn them time off their original sentence.
If you commit a crime, it's fair enough that you should lose some of your human rights but if humanity stops at the prison gate we are all at risk of the consequences.
Jeremy Walker, London WC1
A view from the 19th century
Kenneth Clarke is wrong to assume 19th-century attitudes towards prisons were all reactionary.
In 1899 the anarchist Peter Kropotkin confirmed what we have experienced about Raoul Moat – that prisons harden prisoners – writing: "Prisons, which are considered as a preventative measure against anti-social deeds, are exactly the institutions for breeding them and for rendering these offences worse after a man has received a prison education. Everyone knows that the absence of education, the dislike of regular work, the physical unpreparedness for sustained effort, the love of adventure when it receives a wrong direction, the gambling propensities, the absence of energy, an untrained will, and carelessness about the happiness of others, are the causes which bring this category of men before the courts.
It is exactly these defects of human nature which the prison breeds in its inmates. The thief, the swindler... comes out of it more ready than ever to resume his former career... He is more embittered against society, and he finds a more solid justification for being in revolt against its laws and customs; necessarily, unavoidably, he is bound along the anti-social path which first brought him before a law court."
Mike Bor, London W2
Graduate son without work
It would seem that it is not only graduates with a lower than 2:1 degree pass who are having doors closed on them by employers. As the parent of a mature graduate existing (living would be an inappropriate choice of word) in London, I am astonished that regardless of the fact that he achieved a first-class honours degree at The University of the Arts, London, in the summer of 2009, he has yet to be invited for an interview, despite dozens of applications.
Nor does appropriate experience seem to be of any significance. Many of the jobs for which he has applied involved administrative work, of which he has considerable experience, both before and during his time at university. As he said to me when I spoke to him last night, "I've got so much to offer and it's wasted. I'm never going to get these years back again."
He went to university hoping to improve his prospects and worked incredibly hard to achieve his degree. The result? Unemployment, debt and disillusionment.
Susan Linsdell, Doncaster
I am a sixth-form student, hoping to apply to university next year. It is both frightening and depressing to know that there are now 69 graduates applying for every job (report, 6 July). Regardless of whether the economic situation has brightened up by the time I intend to have finished my degree in 2015, there will still be a huge surplus of graduates with a heavy burden of debt and a lack of work-transferable skills.
Presently our whole year is being coerced into entering higher education despite having vocational job aspirations such as farming or plumbing.
This is not a mistake on the part of the staff; they are only doing their job in making sure we have realistic chances in an ever-demanding world of work, compounded by an ever-higher number of graduates.
More apprenticeships, college-training programs for vocations like mechanics, and genuinely helpful career advisers at school are needed. Instead we have the current culture, where pupils are propelled into subjects they are not passionate about, and that don't prepare them for any particular profession.
Nadia Hasan, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire
Hamish McRae identifies some important reasons why graduates can't get jobs but he misses a mundane but fundamental point; the quality of their applications is shockingly bad ("Can our graduates compete globally?" 7 July).
I recently helped a client to recruit for a new, permanent post. We wanted graduates (yes, with good degrees) with at least five years' experience. The advertisement (in the relevant trade magazine) asked specifically for CVs to be sent with a covering letter, by email, to my client's email address (which made her gender clear) and it gave the firm's website address.
We did not think it unreasonable to expect applicants to read the advertisement and dip into the website, to get a feel for the business, before making an accurate application.
The first email to arrive was addressed to "Dear Sirs", the covering letter consisted of two sentences (a longer version of "I've seen your ad. Here's my CV."), and the applicant's CV highlighted experience that was irrelevant to the post and the business. We received several other similarly sloppy applications (unspellchecked typos, pompous or grandiose writing; one carelessly typed CV had been amended in handwriting, and one candidate even made an error in his name in the covering email) and this was for a role where thoroughness, attention to detail and simple, clear English were obvious essentials.
Graduates, whether just out of university or with a few years' experience, need to remember that employers, faced with 69 applications (in our case, 35) may well make fast and arbitrary decisions about who to interview. One typo could be enough to put their application straight into the reject pile – after all, if you can't be careful when promoting yourself, will you be careful on behalf of the business or its clients?
It is very tough for new graduates and I feel for two of my very bright (with very good degrees) godchildren who are struggling to find the professional jobs with potential for which they have studied and trained. But, in my experience, the vast majority of graduate applicants have only themselves, and their slapdash approach, to blame.
Joanna Biddolph, London W4
While the situation might look bleak for graduates, if they did an internship I believe their chances of gaining employment would be dramatically increased.
I am currently working as a media intern for the Rathbone charity in Manchester and I believe the experience I am gaining will give me a massive advantage over other graduates when I go on and apply for work because I am showing future employers that I am committed.
Universities should do a lot more to encourage their students to look for internships and make them realise that a degree alone may not be enough to get them a job.
Tom Rosillo, Manchester
Graduates are facing the very real prospect that a top-level degree is no longer a passport to employment and it's a bitter pill to swallow.
But this should serve as a much-needed reality check for those graduates who believe that all that is required of them, post-university, is a few weeks spent job-hunting online. With so many individuals, including those from last year's graduate pool, competing for every role, standing out from the competition is critical. Graduates need to seek out opportunities that give them practical experience and help them to develop the type of real-world business skills that employers are desperately seeking.
Rather than devoting huge amounts of energy to pursuing jobs that don't fit with their overall career plan, far better instead to consider unpaid and voluntary work within the sector they are aiming to work in long term, if feasible, or, if not, examine routes to gaining additional, professional, qualifications which will make them far more employable and work-ready.
Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute, London WC2
How markets cause starvation
Johann Hari's "How Goldman gambled on starvation" (2 July), laudably highlights the humanitarian catastrophe and demands accountability. But Goldman Sachs is pretty much correct when it says that traders didn't cause the hike in prices. As the OECD concluded, there was "no convincing evidence that positions held by index traders... impact market returns".
Hari's counter-argument – that crops such as millet, cassava, and potatoes that are not traded on the futures market didn't rise as much as those that were, apparently showing the link between trading and rapid price-inflation – ignores the other crops, such as apples and edible beans, which also rose sharply and are also not traded on futures markets.
Indeed some futures-traded crops such as milk and rice also rose, though index funds did not get involved. These facts show that correlating price inflation with trading is a notoriously difficult task and that one cannot draw a tenable conclusion using only selective data.
A more robust explanation for the sudden price rise was put forward by Tim Harford in his book The Logic of Life: Uncovering the New Economics of Everything. He postulates that if there is a "marriage supermarket" and there are 20 men and 20 women and they are given $100 to split between them, then most likely 10 couples will "check out" with the $100 split 50-50. But if there are 20 women and 19 men and all the women are determined to get married, this slight shortage of men will force up the price of men to such a degree that the men will end up with $99.99 and the women with only $0.01 as no one will want to be left on the shelf.
Applying this to a booming market scenario, even a slightly raised demand can send prices sky-rocketing as people are willing to pay anything to get their hands on the limited produce they need.
This effect is magnified by futures trading due to the degree of separation from the actual commodity which causes frothy markets.
Therefore the opening up of a closed market to the world future markets was a bad move. But it was a bad move made by regulators, not the banks. Blame here should be apportioned to regulators who somehow managed to miss the possibility of this bubble arising with its catastrophic effects. But then these are the same people who also missed the bubble on property, so we shouldn't expect too much.
Ibrahim Khan, Leicester
The EU tackles bank bonuses
Your article concerning the new EU bank-bonus law I have drafted, which will be formally adopted by the European Parliament shortly, quoted solely industry sources' views on the proposals ("Hedge fund fury over more EU pay curbs", 2 July). It doesn't mention the context of the new law – a taxpayer bailout of the financial system with a global price-tag of 12 trillion dollars, equivalent to an entire year's global GDP, and a global recession.
When the public face the cost of financial failure they have a right to demand reforms from the financial sector. As recent reports from the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve show, banks have not reformed themselves; that is why we have needed to legislate. Pay must reflect long-term performance, not short-term excessive risk-taking.
Rules will be applied proportionately to investment firms, which are often smaller than banks, but they too should ensure that the incentives they give their staff match the concern of their investors. This is the first major piece of EU financial-reform legislation since the crisis, and it is a necessary response to systemic risk and the need to strengthen investor protection.
Arlene McCarthy MEP, Vice Chair, Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, European Parliament, Strasbourg
Time to accept women bishops
Sadly, Jeremy Goldsmith's "compromise to move forward" (Letters, 5 July) is wishful thinking if the experience of women priests since 1994 is anything to go by.
Despite the general appreciation of women's priestly ministry in the Church and community, acknowledging the wider variety of gifts and skills that a ministry made up of men together with women creates, many of those who object have not moved to accept them. Why should another "compromise" be any better?
If the majority, and it is the majority, of the Church in England (and Scotland and Wales) believe that it is right for the Church's ministry to reflect both genders of creation, then it seems an odd theology to try to maintain a sector in the Church who do not so believe. Jewish Christians in the first century who couldn't cope with gentiles not becoming Jews first had to walk other ways.
It would be more honest for the General Synod to accept that some people, for good or bad reasons, will not be moved and therefore must be allowed to make their own decisions.
Provinces in the USA, Canada and Australasia have codes of practice which seem to work for those who wish to remain within the Anglican communion. The General Synod needs to move forward with joy and optimism for a more inclusive ministry.
The Revd Bernice Broggio, Gateshead
Gardens of stone
While some "conceptual gardens" may claim to be artistic (6 July), they usually involve the destruction of a natural garden. The replacing of lawns, flowers and trees with patterns of stones and slabs is of great concern. This destruction of insect habitats impacts on birds, numbers of which are declining. In addition, drainage systems have difficulty coping with heavy rain running off these sterile areas.
Mary Cosgrove, Llandudno, Gwynned
I have in the past abandoned both The Times and The Guardian in order to get away from Julie Burchill. Now I learn that she has moved to The Independent. Is it impossible to escape from this woman? Must she pursue me wherever I go? Until now, The Independent was a relative oasis of reason. Please may we have our old newspaper back?
Nigel Scott, London N22
Goodness, isn't Ms Burchill a one! And such a refreshing change. It seems an age since we last heard such eloquent and incisive prose grappling with the red-hot issues of the day and stripping away the lies and official obfuscation. I fear she is going to become a drug I can't get enough of. Death to the buzz-killers who can't grow up and deal with it!
James Vickers, Redcar, Cleveland
I know we were warned, but a whole page of Julie Burchill? Perhaps if you gave her less space she might not have to resort to capitals when talking about CONDITIONER?
Perin Parri-Hughes, Hampton, Middlesex
As a subscriber, I daily receive the first edition of The Independent (delivered any time from 4am – bravo!). So I am used to seeing the odd sub-editorial glitch, which is no doubt eliminated from later versions. But your insertion of a whole page from a rival paper, presumably a red-top, is a step too far. I trust the appropriate heads will roll?
John Bone, London SW6