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Feedback | 21 May 2005

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More prisoners, less crime

Douglas Hurd pointed out that the prison population increased from 44,000 in the 1980s to over 75,000 today (‘Does prison really work?’, 14 May). If ‘“prison works” in reducing crime,’ he says, ‘then obviously a sensational increase in the number of prisoners should produce a sensational reduction in crime. But it hasn’t.’

Actually, it has. A casual glance at the crime figures, available to anyone who goes to the trouble of looking at the Home Office website, would have revealed to the distinguished former home secretary that crime began to fall by rather a lot soon after the prison population increased. The prison population was about 45,600 when Michael Howard became home secretary in 1993. He increased the prison population sharply, a trend continued since 1997, so that now there are 75,500 prisoners.

What happened to crime? According to the British Crime Survey, crime fell from a peak of 19.4 million crimes in 1995 to 11.7 million in 2003/04. Is there a connection? The Home Office has found that the average prisoner committed 140 crimes in the year before going to jail. A full year in jail would, therefore, prevent 140 crimes per prisoner. Since 1993 an additional 30,000 criminals have been incarcerated, thus saving 4.2 million crimes (30,000 x 140). Offenders with a drugs problem (about 70 per cent of all prisoners) commit 257 crimes per year. Imprisoning 30,000 of them prevents 7.7 million crimes, uncannily close to the actual fall according to the British Crime Survey.

David Green

Director, Civitas,

London SW1

Douglas Hurd is much too nice a person to have anything to do with the prison service. Prisons are full of people who see good people as suckers, and more robust action is going to be needed if we are to get the prison population down.

The ending of slopping out was kind, humane, progressive even, and that may give a warm glow to Lord Hurd, but for the prisoners it made life a little easier, a little more tolerable, more comfortable.

What we need to do to cut the numbers of people who will risk a prison sentence is to make the experience very nasty indeed.

No TV, no radio, the bare minimum of boring food, no heating (throw them another blanket), hard work earns slightly better rations, passing literacy and numeracy exams earns better rations, but the whole thing is a very big misery. Criminals will have a very bad time and people will tend not to do things that are painful. It is called aversion therapy.

John Mustoe

Bedford

Influence of affluence

You have suggested several reasons for the disappointing Conservative vote in the recent election (14 May). Here is another one. Far from suffering in the way your contributors suggest, I would say that the middle classes have never been better off. The signs are everywhere. Saga cruises and other expensive foreign holidays, low inflation, a stable currency, low unemployment, a continuous house-price boom, increasing inequality and reduced social mobility since 1997, record sales of champagne — these are not the indications of middle-class stringency. Any member of the middle class who is hard up today must be either ill or incompetent (or, to be fair, looking after sick relatives).

The signs are, of course, that it will all end in tears, perhaps sooner than we think. If so, Blair will be hooted off the stage, followed closely by Brown. But that day has been expected for some years, and we are still waiting for it. Meanwhile the middle-class attitude seems to be ‘Let the Good Times Roll!’

Dennis Outwin

Gorleston, Norfolk

Hospital makes you fat

Like Jessica Johnson (Letters, 14 May), I too have recently visited an A&E unit. The story was the same: vending machines packed with high-fat, high-sugar snacks.

Kingston Hospital defends its policy on the grounds that it is a ‘response to patients’ demands’ and that the patients’ environment guidance on which star ratings are assessed states, ‘Visitors should be able to access food and drink around the clock.’

Far from being joined up, the government’s policies on hospital services and national obesity trends seem far apart.

Ian Duke

Thames Ditton, Surrey

Slanderous Leanda

I find I am the victim of gross slander in these pages, perpetrated by Leanda de Lisle (Diary, 14 May). She claims that one of my ankles was bitten by her in a moment of temper many years ago. This is a blatant untruth — I was far too quick for her. I do remember with great clarity the fine fury and terrible satisfaction of pulling her round the Middle School common-room floor by her long skinny plait. She has no doubt become an entirely charming adult, as of course have I, but at the time we were both quite evidently hot-headed and extremely nasty small girls.

Henrietta Bredin

London SE11

Sachs and the facts

I’m not sure what to make of Jeffrey Sachs’s attempted rebuttal of my claim that his book is full of mistakes in history and geography (Letters, 14 May).

He says that I was wrong to say that malaria was ‘coming under control in the final decades of colonial rule’ in sub-Saharan Africa, but in the next sentence concedes that the mortality rate dipped in the relevant period. In fact, British colonial administrations in Asia as well as Africa had a good record in controlling malaria.

Sachs protests that he did not put the start of British rule in India as 1600, as I said in my review. I would refer your readers to p.176 of The End of Poverty and leave them to make up their own minds.

In my review I commented that Sachs’s remarks on the lack of navigable rivers in Africa were ‘astonishing’. I stick to that comment. Not only is the Congo a superb inland waterway (with only a relatively short distance between Kinshasa, where the inland waterway now ends, and the sea) but Africa has the Niger, the Gambia, the Senegal, the Zambezi, the Limpopo and others, all with long navigable stretches. Australia has nothing like Africa’s endowment in this respect, but it is many times richer.

I repeat my point. Sorry, Professor Sachs, the problem with sub-Saharan Africa is governance, not geography. There is nothing wrong with distinguished economists writing popular books, particularly when — as in The End of Poverty — they have a strong case to make. But distinguished economists, like the rest of us, should not be sloppy with facts and they should accept well-founded corrections with good grace.

Tim Congdon

Huntley, Gloucestershire

Insult to intelligence

Roger Graef’s piece ends with the valid conclusion that errant behaviour among children is copied from adults (‘How we betray the young’, 7 May). As a retired Australian high-school teacher, I can attest to the sort of bad classroom behaviour Mr Graef cites. ‘Anarchic’ is not an exaggeration. Teachers must put up with foul-mouthed insults and threats of violence on a daily basis. The culprit is a theory that became fashionable in the 1970s: Student-Centred Learning.

This theory essentially makes the student the boss, in just about every aspect: deciding what homework shall be given, how much and when it will be handed in; when the teacher will talk and when he will be quiet; what is a fair or unfair punishment and even what shall or shall not be taught. For many years trainee teachers have been told they are not the authority in the classroom but that they must invite students to agree on various ‘social contracts’ between themselves and the teacher. This approach when it was initially formulated excited many educational theorists and planners, but it has clearly not worked.

Peter Coghill

New South Wales Department of Education,

Australia

Cross-dressing canard

I am deeply distressed that Patrick Skene Catling has used The Spectator’s pages as a vehicle (Books, 7 May) to perpetuate the rumour that J. Edgar Hoover was a transvestite. There is no evidence to support this rumour — a rumour? No, an outright lie! — and there is some evidence to disprove it.

The lie has been traced to British journalist Anthony Summers, whose 1993 hack biography of Hoover contained the assertion of one Susan L. Rosenstiel that she had seen Hoover cross-dressing in 1958 at a party co-hosted by her husband Lewis Rosenstiel, the chairman of Schenley Industries and a long-time friend of J. Edgar Hoover. The Rosenstiels divorced a few years later, while Hoover was still director of the FBI. Conveniently, Susan Rosenstiel never made any statements about Mr Hoover’s alleged sexual activities until Hoover and Lewis Rosenstiel were both long dead and could not defend themselves.

Mrs Rosenstiel’s statement has never been substantiated, and the evidence that it is a lie is this: when she and Lewis Rosenstiel divorced, she sought a large alimony settlement but was ultimately forced to accept a very small one. If Mrs Rosenstiel had possessed any information about her husband or Hoover which would have embarrassed Lewis Rosenstiel, she surely would have used it as a bargaining chip rather than waiting until after the targets of her falsehoods were safely dead.

Other well-known ‘facts’ about J. Edgar Hoover are demonstrably untrue, such as the canard that he and FBI agent Clyde Tolson (Hoover’s alleged gay lover) are buried together. They are interred in the same cemetery, but their graves are not adjacent.

Anthony Summers at least was honest enough to admit that he despised Hoover, and that he was only interested in depicting Hoover unfavourably rather than accurately.

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

New York

No exit from poverty trap

While I expected to disagree with Allister Heath’s assessment of New Labour’s economic record (‘Why we can’t afford a third term’, 30 April), I took particular exception to his little rant against tax credits. He is right in saying that some credits are removed at a rate of 60p to 70p per pound of extra earnings, but as I am sure he knows full well, any reduction in this rate would rapidly bring large numbers of people (some of them relatively well-off) into the tax credit system. Indeed, he goes on to complain about this very effect just two paragraphs later. Which is it to be, Mr Heath?

The real problem is the poverty trap, to which there is no complete solution. Tax credits represent a good compromise between allowing the poor to starve and providing a minimum income and nothing more, which really would rob them of ‘any incentive to improve their lives’ by seriously distorting the labour market at low incomes. This is a difficult problem, but through ‘copious use of selective ... figures’ Heath disguises the facts and clouds the mind for his own political ends.

Conrad Vink

York

Alive and kick-starting

In ‘The way ahead for the Conservatives’ (7 May) Simon Heffer quotes my father as the late Rear Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles. Although never known for punctuality, he is not that late and will shortly celebrate his 91st birthday. He marked his 90th by riding my son’s motorbike around our garden.

Rodney Morgan-Giles

Alresford, Hampshire