LETTER: It is not the criminals you blame for crime

I would like to do an addendum of my prison piece [November 18], in fact I would like to do two:

1. The judge told them to go back to work. Reminds me of an instance in the early ’70s when five dockers were imprisoned for similarly disobeying a court order about industrial relations. This led to a shudder in the industrial fabric, well, certainly the London region one.

Print workers started leaving work, engineers followed, other working class types took inste over legal opposition to work people defending themselves. The temperature mounted. the sunrise did not so much say the words but the light formation in the early morning sky appeared to be nudging at the idea of general strike. The government were aware of this, possibly more aware of it than the bit characters who were contributing increasingly to the threat.

Bring in Paul Foot, a famous journalist and revolutionary socialist of the day. An interesting observation Mr Foot made. The Government conjured up this character that had never been heard of before and never been heard of since called the ‘official solicitor’. This personage announced to the world, the bit that was listening, that a legal mistake had been made and that the ‘Pentonville five’ (the dockers) should not have been imprisoned and forthwith be released. Shoulder high these characters were carried to freedom by a few of the very people that had been the real reason why they had been set free. A lesson there for prison staff. Who are more powerful, the judges or organised working people?

2. Prisons? Possibly got these statistics the wrong way round or even numerically slightly adrift, but the point stays, hopefully to be corrected. Ninety per cent of inmates are of no fixed abode when arrested (homeless). Seventy per cent have a treatable mental illness when taken into custody. Scrabble around with these numbers at leisure the real point is that prison is a warehouse doing little for the incumbents or staff.

Reoffending rates say the same. And going back to my supposed 70 per cent that are headwise suffering, the very brickwall nature of their incarceration is all but certain to lay seed growth to mental instability that wasn’t there when first handcuffed.

The answer? Mass investment both in and out of the institution. Unplug lives rotting and inject respect, skill, optimism. Full employment, full housing and large wages do a lot for crime figures. Or the other way round to quote another deceased socialist from my youth, Duncan Hallas, in a robbing society crime appears like the froth on the head of Guinness, you can’t have one without the other.

I know we are a long way from this socialist turnaround but the answer to the nonsense that is the prison system needs to be argued. And while we are in memory lane, by my determination, I want to talk about the changing world and its potential. Five years ago I sat in a mid-market breakfast house with three old school chums of mine when we had all left school within a year of one another in the mid ’60s. The conversation slipped in to discussing the current unemployment statistics and from a few mouths a condemnation of the modern workshy. But then the question was asked that back in those faraway new town days did any of us know anyone unemployed back then. The answer was a negative.

Full employment more wall to wall than the then fashion of fitted carpets that were sneaking under our council house doors. It is not the unemployed you blame for not working but the lack of jobs. It is not the criminals you blame for crime but a society that is plunging a proportion of the population in to the toilet bowl and calling it normal development.

Colin Frost-Herbert

Abinger Place