Letters: Britain's prisons

'Prisoner chess' is a result of government targets

Wednesday 21 October 2009 00:00

If it is true that managers have moved difficult prisoners in advance of inspection visits ("Governors face disciplinary action over 'prisoner chess'", 20 October), then it will be another example of people doing their job not to achieve the best result, but to meet a government target.

This happens across all public services: the easy way to meet the four-hour A&E target is simply to admit patients to a ward; and if the cancer waiting time is about to blow a target you can prescribe antibiotics in week 16.

Targets are now an end in themselves; nothing to do with real people and what happens to them, but a self-justifying means to demonstrate the universal beneficence of those doing the setting and monitoring.

If any putative government is serious about looking again at this obsession with targets, numbers and ciphers, it could be a reason to think of voting for it.

Colin Standfield

London W7

The Big Question "How can we end the crisis in Britain's overcrowded prisons?" (7 October) usefully outlined the reasons for the prisons crisis. One surprising approach to prison overcrowding was the recent California State Assembly decision to reduce the state's prison population by 27,000, thereby making $1bn savings in the face of the recession. There, 70 per cent of parolees are returned to prison for breach violations.

In this country, probation officers should be allowed greater professional discretion, so that "get tough" target-driven, breach-enforcement action, which results in 10 per cent of prisoners being "recycled" back to custody, often for technical violations, is brought to an end. If we better resourced resettlement on release, this would, on all the evidence, lead more prisoners to "go straight" and reduce reoffending. Something that benefits all of us?

Mike Guilfoyle

London SE4

Bonuses to blame for credit crisis

Angela Knight, Chief Executive of the British Bankers' Association, writes "bonuses were not even among the principal reasons of the credit crunch" (Business comment, 15 October). Perhaps it is her vested interest that makes it so difficult for her to differentiate cause and effect.

The creation of innovative financial products was the root cause of the crisis, but the marketing and sale of the dodgy products was bound up with the desire to do business, and bonuses were paid on the amount of business deals completed. The fact that due diligence was being neglected (and indeed sheer common sense), in the desire to increase short-term profits seems to have been conveniently forgotten already.

It's rather like blaming the Titanic disaster of 1912 on the iceberg, and neglecting to take into account the failure of Captain Smith to set a safe course.

Graham Main

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

The credit crunch was caused by careless and inappropriate lending/speculating by the banks. Had there been less incentive for bankers to speculate at great risk, and at no personal cost to themselves, the crisis would not have happened.

The remuneration of bankers is way above anything most people receive and it is difficult to see how bonuses add to their performance. If they didn't receive them, would they withdraw their labour or perform less well?

To date bankers have ignored the pleas for moderation from President Obama and our Prime Minister. We need legislation to allow the FSA to audit the remuneration system and if there have to be bonuses, to pay these only after the achievement of long-term goals and in reasonable proportion to salaries.

Terry Pugh

Baildon, West Yorkshire

Regarding the Goldman Sachs bonuses (report, 15 October): were these bonuses not to be paid, by how much would investors' and shareholders' returns increase? Have the investors' and shareholders' views on the matter been ascertained?

Perhaps a more equitable approach to the distribution of profits would be for employees to hold shares in the company in proportion to their basic salary and be rewarded by dividends and share-value increase.

Steven Ford

Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

No threat to free speech from Fry

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's thoughts on the Moir-Fry row leave me distinctly puzzled (Opinion, 19 October).

As far as I can see, Ms Moir wrote something about the death of the singer Stephen Gately that Mr Fry found objectionable and he has said so with his customary vigour and eloquence. If she responds to him he will undoubtedly bite back, and we can all look forward to a few weeks of enjoyable knockabout in the public prints. However I cannot see that either of them is calling for restrictions on free speech – they are both too busy exercising it to the great entertainment of us all.

R S Foster


In representing the upsurge of objection across the internet to Jan Moir's article as an "army" that Stephen Fry "commands", Yasmin Alibhai-Brown panders to Moir's fantasy that the torrent of criticism she has received is some kind of orchestrated campaign, rather than a very large number of genuinely disgusted individuals, each capable to an extent of forming their own opinion.

Richard Marr

London SW15

Sorry Yasmin, but there can be no gradations of the concept of free speech. We either have it or we don't. Any added riders or stipulations mean we don't.

Angela Elliott

Welton le Marsh, Lincolnshire

If I were to say that the Old Testament is a "fascist book", that should have such "hate preaching" verses as "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" excised, that the book should be banned, and Jewish schools closed, I would expect to be tried for inciting anti-Semitic hatred.

Why is it that Mr Geert Wilders's offensive statements about Islam are seen as his right to "free speech" by the authorities who upheld his right to enter the UK?

The current fad for denigrating Muslims and hating Arabs is a blight on western freedom, democracy and its inherent Christian ethics.

Dr F H Mikdadi

Dorchester, Dorset

Education lessons from Raleigh

Many who experience Raleigh's education system are unhappy. In an election last week, residents voted for four new school-board members who, together with an existing member, will create a majority committed to overturning the integration policy lauded by Johann Hari (Opinion, 16 October).

Most of those who voted to change the system support the underlying goals of equality of educational opportunity but are dissatisfied with the implementation.

Among the reasons for discontent: i) children spend up to two hours a day on buses to the detriment of their fitness and the environment; ii) the cost of buying and maintaining buses and paying drivers and administrators drains funds that could otherwise be spent on teachers; iii) parents are less able to be involved with their children's schools and communicate directly with their children's teachers because they do not deliver or collect their children to and from school and often live too far away to make short visits during the school day; v) children and parents both feel less attached to schools because they live with uncertainty as to which school they might be assigned the following academic year.

I was educated in another North Carolina city, Charlotte, which was among the first in the US to implement cross-city busing to achieve racial integration. This system was eventually overturned in favour of neighbourhood and "magnet" schools (similar to "academies"), for many of the reasons outlined above.

Lucia Davies

London SW1

What is the cause of climate change?

Colin Summerhayes (20 October) begins his letter with the statement "Dominic Lawson would like us to believe that climate change is unreal". On the contrary, my article did not dispute the reality of climate change; that would be preposterous, since the earth's climate has been changing for countless millennia.

What I actually wrote is that the average global recorded temperature has not risen for the past 11 years (a fact, not an opinion) and that this has led some scientists to argue that there are natural cycles now cooling the planet which are more powerful than man-made augmentation of the greenhouse effect. Hard as it might be for even some intelligent people to believe, "climate change" and "man-made climate change" are not one and the same thing.

Dominic Lawson

London W8

Richard Mountford's "Plan B" for combating rising carbon-dioxide levels rules out lifestyle changes, concentrating instead on decarbonising energy supplies and the atmosphere (letters, 17 October). Hang on a minute. In the west, we have been living way beyond our means , with a carbon footprint at least 10 times higher than the planet can afford.

What we have got used to, we're not entitled to. Lifestyle is precisely what needs to change. Once we are motivated to reduce our energy use and carbon footprint, rapid change can happen. For example, if we were to halve our demand, double the efficiency of technology, and take half the carbon out of our energy supplies, we would be down to one-eighth of the carbon input. Now that's a real Plan B.

Bill Bordass

London NW1

Paul Vallely asks "Why is so much of the world still hungry, and what can we do about it?" (The Big Question, 15 October). The question has an intuitive and unambiguous answer – increasing human numbers. He then asks the subsidiary question "What about the effects of climate change?" Although climate change is undoubtedly a proximate cause of starvation, the ultimate cause is population pressure.

Nobody pretends that controlling population will be easy but, in failing to acknowledge the elephant in the room, Vallely's argument is mere sophistry. In this respect, his illustrious bedfellows include Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association and the Green Party.

David Smith

Clyro, Powys


What Katie wore next

I was surprised to learn that Katie Price is publishing a book of advice on what to wear (19 October). I was under the impression that her rise to fame was the result of her expertise in what not to wear.

Gordon Elliot

Burford, Oxfordshire

No pity for MPs

Don Manley (letters, 20 October) "feels sorry for those MPs who've been asked to pay back sums as the result of a retrospective changing of the rules". But the rules haven't changed: not for an MP with a sense of fairness and without the intention to grab whatever was possible.

The analogy drawn by your correspondent of being told he had "bought an author a drink too many" would only hold had he drowned his author in a vat of fine brandy.

Eddie Dougall

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Electric dreams

Peter Robb (letters, 19 October) asks how electric cars can reduce overall carbon emissions. Professor David MacKay in his book Sustainable Energy: without the hot air suggests that an electric car could be about five times as efficient as the equivalent fossil-fuel car. So that's a start; even better if green electricity is available. As your correspondent recognises, much work is needed to develop more efficient cars and batteries to provide adequate range, as well as infrastructure for recharging. Difficult, yes, but surely a worthwhile objective?

Anthony G Bridgewater

Chichester, West Sussex

Wed at Westminster

Pleased as we are that Parliament might be available for civil partnership ceremonies (report, 20 October), Labour and the other parties will have to do better in selecting lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates in winnable seats if the facility is to have much use made of it.

Derek Munn

Stonewall Equality Ltd London SE1

Let there be light

Dr Etherington speculates about smart televisions that switch themselves off (letters, 19 October). The technology exists. I remember lecture rooms at the LSE where the lighting switched off when the room was empty. If you sat down for a quiet read, you had to wave your arms about intermittently to keep the lights on.

Terence Davidson

Twickenham, Surrey


Is Berlin's eco-friendly brothel in the green-light district (report, 16 October)?

Richard Cadman

Booton, Norfolk

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