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Eddie Mair | 05:44 UK time, Monday, 16 July 2007

The place to talk seriously about serious things.


  1. At 09:21 AM on 16 Jul 2007, jonnie wrote:

    So I see the National consumer council has concluded that childrem are watching too much television - or some such astounding news.

    Is it possible to steer clear of this topic today?

    It's been debated in depth at least twice since we had the blog!

    Or if we go there - can we leave Dr Aric Sigmund's own views and reserarch out of the equation?

    Thank you

  2. At 09:25 AM on 16 Jul 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    Here's something we don't talk about, but which I think we should.

    50 prisoners have killed themselves so far this year in jails in England and Wales. This is an increase on last year, and it seems likely that it is due to overcrowding.

    We know these people are inadequate and vulnerable. We know the system cannot cope.

    We don't have capital punishment in this country. Yet the way we deal with our prisoners comes pretty close to judicial execution. The only difference is that having led them to the gallows and put the noose around their necks, we allow them to pull the lever themselves.

    There are no votes in treating prisoners humanely. Presumably that's why our leaders don't encourage discussion. I think we should talk about anyway.


  3. At 10:51 AM on 16 Jul 2007, Member of the public... wrote:

    Sid Cumberland - I'm more concerned about the scores of prisoners that escape evey month, and so should you be. Why not discuss that? By the way do the Liberal Democrats still want to give the vote to prisoners? If so why? The role of prisons is to deter, punish and, ideally, rehabilitate offenders so they cease to be a menace to society on their release from custody. Yet the Government's incoherent approach to criminal justice means that none of these objectives is currently being achieved on a reliable basis.

    As a consequence, I think the law-abiding public have now lost complete confidence in the penal system, a loss of confidence which explains the bewilderment that has greeted the astonishing admission that 60 per cent of inmates of English prisons possess the key to their cell. If this was only happening at this country's open prisons where inmates are subject to a more relaxed regime because liberals think they pose a minimal threat to the public, the Government might reasonably have a defence.

    However, the fact that such leniency also extends to some of England's closed prisons is beyond belief and it only re-enforces the view, that's now widely held by both the law-abiding public and a large element of the criminal fraternity, that custodial sentences are a soft touch.

    This is because the issuing of keys is not an isolated example of undue leniency. Do you know that more than 1,000 inmates have access to satellite television why? When they are supposedly paying a debt to society.

    I think what makes such concessions even more indefensible is the fact that nearly three-quarters of inmates resume their criminal ways upon their release from custody, a stark statistic which highlights the extent to which the public are still being betrayed.

    The primary factor for this is a conveyor belt justice system that looks to process convicted criminals – or "residents" to use the latest liberal politically-correct jargon now in vogue at some misguided British prisons – as quickly as possible because of a shortage of cells rather than addressing the root causes of their law-breaking, such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. This must be the Home Office's top priority, not misguided schemes which appear to reward bad behaviour rather than act as a genuine deterrent.

  4. At 11:59 AM on 16 Jul 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    Dear Anonymous,

    We don’t have time to discuss everything, so wouldn't it make sense to talk about the more important things? (I would be grateful, nonetheless, if you could give a reference for the number of prisoners who escape every month, and how many are recaptured. I’m surprised the Daily Mail hasn’t got hold of this story.)

    Yes, the Liberal Democrats do still propose giving prisoners the vote – it’s one way of encouraging them to feel they have a stake in society, which in turn is part of their rehabilitation. I note that you put rehabilitation third (‘ideally’), where I would put it first (and absolutely necessary).

    I fear you may have missed my main point.

    You say ‘custodial sentences are a soft touch’. I’m talking about 50 unnecessary deaths of prisoners while in the care of the state. Just how soft a touch would you say that was?

    You claim that ‘nearly three-quarters of inmates resume their criminal ways upon their release’, yet you imply that rehabilitation is optional.

    You talk about ‘addressing the root causes of their law-breaking, such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol’ (to which I would add poor education), yet you think it more relevant to talk about prisoners who abscond rather than the conditions which lead so many to kill themselves.


  5. At 12:20 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Sid (4),

    I fear you may have missed my main point.

    Well said!

  6. At 12:42 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Sid (4), I've long suspected that "Member of the Public" is the Daily Mail, or at least one of its "journalists". (S)he crops up every now and then to make pronouncements but doesn't engage with anyone else.

    The issue you describe is very important and thanks for bringing it up. I don't think I can add anything to what you have already said (not before lunch anyway!), but I'd be interested to hear the views of others and some constructive suggestions for changing the way we deal with the people we send to prison.

  7. At 01:07 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    Unfortunately my posting from earlier seems to have been lost in the ether. I'll try to piece together what I said earlier, as well as some feedback on the later posts...

    I tend to agree with you, Sid. Surely the best thing for society is for prisons to act as a reforming institution first and foremost. If all they do is act as state retribution centres, is it any wonder that those "inside" can feel such despair that they take their own lifes? As I understand it, this is even worse for Young Offenders, when that is surely the ideal time to try and reform them. In our current system of "Justice as Retribution" those who start down that route in life will find it ever harder and harder to escape it. There should also be much more to address the issue of drug addiction. This is a large factor for many criminal activities. Without addressing this, I feel we're just nibbling at the edges of the problem...

    As for MotP, I always believed it was someone taking Devil's Advocate positions in order to move the debate. However, I think you may be right, Appy. I think the names M. Phillips, R. Littlejohn, A.A. Gill spring to mind....

  8. At 01:10 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Stewart M wrote:

    What are the figures for ex prisoners committing suicide?. We are told reoffending rates but I've never heard this stat quoted.

  9. At 01:22 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Fearless (7),

    ""Justice as Retribution" those who start down that route in life will find it ever harder and harder to escape it."

    I am reminded of something I saw in my studies of the Palestinian situation, "We can have revenge, or we can have security, but not both. If revenge brought security, Israel would be the securest place on Earth."

    I second your thoughts as expressed.


  10. At 02:07 PM on 16 Jul 2007, witchiwoman wrote:

    There was a very interesting piece in the Guardian this weekend about a prison that offers therapy as a tool of rehabilitation.


    Very interesting especially the transcript of the 'set up' group that ended up being quite real and moving.

    It really does seem to be effective.

  11. At 02:40 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Vyle Hernia wrote:

    Just a thought - is not Satellite TV a form of punishment?

    I did hear that those prisoners being let out early were being given money for their daily needs; whether this is much different from "Social Security" I don't know. But if a couple of weeks off their sentence leaves them without proper preparation for life outside, the prison service appears to leave its release programme a bit late.

  12. At 02:51 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Witchi (10),

    Thank you! Thank you for that! Very moving and bang on Sid's point.


  13. At 03:59 PM on 16 Jul 2007, BNatural wrote:

    So if you have stock which tests positive for Bovine TB it must be destroyed...not if you are a minority it doesn't.

    So if you wish to wear a small ring to affirm your religious beliefs you are to be expelled from school...not if you are a minority you're not.

    These Loony Liberals are hell-bent on destroying our heritage. In another age they would have been accused of treason.

  14. At 04:13 PM on 16 Jul 2007, J.J. Cox wrote:

    CHIEF Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers warned on Thursday that overcrowding is contributing to a "sharp rise" in inmate suicides in English and Welsh jails.

    So far this year, some 50 prisoners have taken their own lives, compared with 67 in the whole of last year.

    If deaths continue at the same rate, this would reverse a trend which has seen prison suicides fall in recent years.

    Ms Owers regretted that the recent overcrowding crisis had seen up to 400 newly convicted prisoners housed in police and courthouse cells, where the risk of suicide may increase as inmates do not have access to the support that proper prisons offer at their time of greatest vulnerability.

    The prison population hit a record of 81,040 this month, before dipping by 1,500 because of a government early release scheme.

    Prison numbers have risen by 20,000 in the last decade, even though crime has fallen by 35 per cent in the same period.

    Ms Owers urged the government to use the "breathing space" offered by the early release programme to "get a system which provides the kind of support after prison, before prison and instead of prison that means we are not just revolving people through the system."

    The government announced the locations of 500 new prison places on Thursday as a measure to tackle overcrowding.

    Prison Officers Association general secretary Brian Caton said that his union's members were equally "appalled" at the figures.

    "We have to deal with the death of prisoners, but also with the staff who have to deal with it who get no support from the Prison Service," he said.

    "The Prison Service are looking for the lowest grade to blame for the failure of the system and society."

    Civil servants' union PCS argued that, rather than building more prisons and locking more people away, ministers should put emphasis on rehabilitation and "get a grip" on the high reoffending rate of 67 per cent.

    "Stopping reoffending through rehabilitation, education and skills needs to be seen as the number one priority in addressing prison numbers," PCS officer for the Prison Service Peter Olech noted.

    Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said: "These 50 desperate deaths must raise urgent questions about why we lock up so many vulnerable, mentally ill people in the bleakest conditions within a system overheating from the pressure of overcrowding.

    "It is the hopelessness, isolation and uncertainty that gets to people."

    Howard League for Penal Reform director Frances Crook expressed concern that prisons in England and Wales could see over 100 suicides this year.

    "Of particular concern is the doubling in the suicide rate among women. There were three self-harm suicides in 2006, compared to six so far this year," she said.

    "Initiatives such as the Save Custody Group had made real strides in suicide prevention in prison, but all that good work may be undone by the intolerable pressure of numbers on the system."

    Prison deaths campaigner Pauline Campbell, whose only child Sarah died in custody in 2003, blamed the rise in jail suicides on the government's "political mumbo jumbo" and failure to listen and act.

    "The government has dug itself a big hole by allowing the prison population get out of control and it doesn't know how to get out of the mess," Ms Campbell insisted.

    "Around 38 women prisoners have died in custody since the death of my daughter. But ministers have failed to learn the lessons."

    Ms Campbell condemned the government for failing to respond to Baroness Corston's report in March, in which she recommended more community sentences and the replacement of women's prisons with small community-based centres.

    "We are tired of political waffle and demand to see more action and less procrastination - close women's prisons and bring in more community sentencing," Ms Campbell urged.

    The latest woman prisoner to die in custody was Marie Cox on June 30 at Holloway prison, north London.

  15. At 06:25 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Jane Smith wrote:

    Hello Eddie,
    Re the PPP article on today's PM.
    Apparently £0.5b might solve this problem.
    I know where to find £500m!
    See The Times 25/10/06 'DTI finance director fails to account for £500m' by Christine Buckley, Industrila Editor.
    The darling Mr A Darling was in charge of the DTI at that time.
    The Trade and Industry Committee was told by Mr A Darling DTI Secretary "You could split all these figures to every last penny but we would be consuming a rainforest each time you're doing it."
    Could you (a) find someone about to dig up a smallish woodland for affordable housing so we could find the lost £500m? or (b) sneak me into the DTI and let me run through the books?
    The adoration of all underground users in the Capital would be your's forever!

  16. At 07:09 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    I'd just like to say thanks for the thoughtful comments on my posting, and for dsome interesting links. For those who didn't quite catch my original point, let me rephrase in a slightly different way: I thought we lived in a country which did not tolerate judicial execution. Am I wrong?


  17. At 02:20 PM on 17 Jul 2007, Mic wrote:

    Aren't we forgetting that prisoners are all volunteers?

  18. At 03:35 PM on 17 Jul 2007, Simon Worrall wrote:

    Are you wrong? No, you're not. This country no longer tolerates judicial execution. The scaffold which still existed in Devonport Dockyard (South Yard) was retired after the enactment of the Human Rights Act, by which legal means this country gave up that right.

    But suicides in jail are not judicial executions, no matter how strongly you feel about the fact that it happens. Judges don't sentence criminals to death. Nor can I believe that they send them to jail knowing what the end-result will be.

    What is the judicial system to do? If they let out every convict who could claim a disadvantage then the overcrowding problem would end overnight as the cons walked free.

    Most cons are dropouts from the education system, with no skills, no qualifications and therefore no chances in life. Should they all be able to get out because their teachers let them down?

    Mic makes a valid point. No-one forced these people to murder, rape, burgle, pick pockets, sell drugs and the whole gamut of crime for which they are doing time. In that sense they all volunteered. They made the mistake of being caught.

    In that sense the solution is simple; no crime, no conviction, no jail sentence.


  19. At 03:41 PM on 17 Jul 2007, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    Mic (16):

    I'm not. Are you?


  20. At 05:34 PM on 17 Jul 2007, Aperitif wrote:

    Mic (16), I don't expect that many have voluteered for the life that led them to the crimes that led them to the prison.

  21. At 06:16 PM on 17 Jul 2007, Fearless Fred wrote:

    Mic (16) I'm not sure that your comment adds to the overall question. After all, surely we want the prison and justice system to do what is in the best interests of society as a whole. Isn't is better for the system to change the attitudes, desires, and needs of offenders so that they are moved away from a life of crime? It may not be 100% effective, but the system we have at the moment does nothing to address recidivism among criminals, nor does it look to breaking the dependence of offenders on the one form of life that they so far have found to give them the illusion of happiness. Yes, I know that it is an illusion that may be based on drug dependence, violence towards others, lack of respect for the rights of others, etc, but isn't it worth us trying to move individuals away from this illusion, rather than the usual "lock 'em up, the b*******s" attitude....

  22. At 12:55 AM on 19 Jul 2007, sid310 wrote:

    Why has the story about the alleged London car bomb and the Glasgow airport car bomb suddenly disapeared from our attention?

    Whats happened to this story?

  23. At 01:43 PM on 19 Jul 2007, BernieR wrote:

    I feel pretty sure that on this evening's programme, somebody will tell us that cannabis is far more potent than it used to be, and therefore far more dangerous.

    This is misleading. Cannabis is the same substance with the same effects as it has been for the last thirty years. The concentration of active ingredients has always varied. People adjust how much they use, depending on the effect it has on them.

    Cannabis as strong as anything you can get today was often available in the 1970s.

    The false idea that cannabis has fundamentally changed has been introduced in an attempt to justify a change in the way it should be dealt with. We are in dodgy dossier territory here.

    The findings of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs back this up. That's why Charles Clark was unable to carry through the reclassification as he wished.

  24. At 08:14 PM on 19 Jul 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Bernie (23),

    "Cannabis as strong as anything you can get today was often available in the 1970s."

    YUP! It was a wee bit less common, though, and somehow nicer.....

    I'm with Neil Young,

    "Home grown is the way it should be,
    Home grown is allright with me!"


  25. At 11:02 PM on 19 Jul 2007, madmary wrote:

    I want to say that reclassifying cannabis did nothing to change the penalties for possessing the stuff. The penalty remained the same and cannabis remained an arrestable offence before the law of arrest was amended (another subject altogether but an interesting one).

    The penalty for supplying cannabis was actually increased at the same time as the drug was downgraded.

    I cannot understand therefore why it needs to be upgraded again.

    Changing the classification was an exercise in political window dressing nothing more. Except of course that it added to immense confusion as it appeared to suggest that possession of a class C drug was legal. That's obviously not right.

    As for the Home Secretary, well was a load of ...

    She has admitted to committing a criminal offence. There is no statute of limitation in this country. Is she now suggesting that if people admit to crimes they committed in thier youth that that's ok? Suppose someone confessed to murder or rape when they were younger? Would that be OK because is was 20 odd years ago?

    She might suggest that her crime was minor but how does she square that with the idea that her goverment want to say that possessing cannabis is more serious and that's why they want to reclassify the drug back to Class B?

    We have come to expect hypocracy from our polititians. Why am I so surprised? And why are they surprised by young people being dissaffected and cynical and not wanting to vote for them?

    Rant over for one night!


  26. At 11:10 AM on 20 Jul 2007, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    Bernie R @ 23, that story is now probably sub judice or something, because people have been arrested and I think charged? We won't hear more until the trial, I suppose.

    I still want to know who towed away the second car-bomb in London, and how that came to happen, which is a question that deosn't seem to have been asked much.

    And goodness me I am glad that the Scots police decided that armed policemen were not needed at Glasgow Airport that day! At least nobody got shot by accident during the struggle.

  27. At 02:00 PM on 20 Jul 2007, Ed Iglehart wrote:
    Israel's Palestinian prisoners
    9,850 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails.
    105 are women.
    359 are children.
    40 Palestinian Legislative Council members are also under arrest.

    From a report on the release of (mainly Fatah) prisoners.
    "None of the prisoners being freed on Friday were directly involved in attacks on Israelis, according to Israeli officials."

    So, why were they (including 11 minors) being held? Obviously just a few of the thousand or so detained without charge.

    All this is intended to reinforce the isolation of Hamas, who gained a majority in the last elections. Ill-advised, in my opinion.


  28. At 02:40 PM on 21 Jul 2007, Fifi wrote:

    Thanks for the Grendon article link Witchi (10). I know someone who went through that wonderful place, and it has altered his life completely.

    All I knew till today was that it involved a lot of 'group therapy'.

    While there, the individual concerned learned to write, learned to analyse and control his emotions, and learned to relate to other people.

    He is now successfully on parole at the end of a very long sentence, working hard, drives a much better car than I do, and has married a sensible and caring woman.

    If you're not going even to attempt to rehabilitate prisoners, you might as well be sentencing them to death when you put them in gaol.

    It's time we as a society had a good hard think about what prison is 'for'. Is it punishment? Is it to keep the rest of us safe from them? Is it to deter others from criminal activity? Is it to make it less likely they'll repeat-offend?

    One type of establishment won't fit all those bills.


  29. At 03:26 PM on 21 Jul 2007, Fifi wrote:

    Latest from 'Cathy' in Zimbabwe:

    Dear Family and Friends,
    The big luxury cars and their nouveau riche occupants have gone from our town
    now. The men in big jackets whose multiple pockets were overflowing with bank notes have also disappeared from view this week. These vultures who came hot on the heels of the price cutting army and youth brigade have picked the carcass
    clean and now just the bare bones are left : our shops are as good as empty.

    Most supermarkets have given up all pretence of trying to make it look as if
    they've got things left to sell and there are just line after line of empty shelves. Bottled water, however, is still abundant - surely a relief to the participants of the endless government workshops who seem to use so much of it.

    Our streets have grown dramatically quieter this week as fuel supplies have
    dried up and yesterday came another nail in the price control coffin. The all powerful 'Task Force' on price cuts announced that fuel paid for in foreign
    currency and issued by a coupon system has now been banned. Holders of coupons
    have 2 weeks to redeem their fuel from private importers and that's the end of
    another life line. It wasn't one that many ordinary people could access but
    still it kept some individuals, church organizations, donor agencies and
    diplomats on the road. Day by day the ways that people outside the country can
    help their families left behind are being cut off and so the reality of aloneness and oppression grows.

    It's taken three weeks of madness but at last people are beginning to ask
    questions about the price cuts. The first one is why the maximum amount of money
    people can withdraw from their own bank accounts suddenly and dramatically
    increased from one and a half to ten million dollars just a few days after price
    cuts began. Coincidental? You have to wonder, as most ordinary Zimbabweans lucky enough to have jobs don't earn anywhere near ten million dollars a month.

    The government stipulated wage for a domestic house worker, for example is less than a hundred thousand dollars a month - for sure none of them benefited from price
    cuts or from being able to withdraw ten million dollars a day.

    People are openly asking where the resupplies of food and fuel are going to
    come from now that the cupboard is bare. Everyone is asking where, when and how
    this is going to end. And everyone is asking why it happened. Many say its been
    done to win voter support but 8 months before elections are due and with empty
    shelves already, it makes little sense.

    Perhaps answers will come in the next week as Parliament re-opens for the 7th
    session but we are not holding our breath. The statistics just released about the 6th session of parliament leave much to be desired. In the year long 6th session the House of Assembly sat for business for just 54 days. Imagine 311 days of paid annual leave at the expense of tax payers! The mind boggles. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

    Horrific. Fifi xx

  30. At 06:39 PM on 21 Jul 2007, Fifi wrote:

    I hear Dubya's been having "five small polyps removed during a colonoscopy" today.

    One of them called Tony....?

    Fifi ;o)

  31. At 04:30 PM on 22 Jul 2007, Jill Jackson wrote:

    As regards an epitaph suitable for Blair, I think Rudyard Kipling's ditty about A Dead Statesman could have been written with "our Tone" in mind.

    I could not dig, I dared not rob
    Therefore I lied to please the mob
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?

  32. At 08:32 PM on 22 Jul 2007, Fifi wrote:

    Jill (31) you're a genius!


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