Chief Inspector of prisons Anne Owers was right to warn this week that Britain's prisons are in 'serious crisis'. If anything it's something of an understatement about a system that sees more people locked up per head of population than any other country in western Europe.
Prisons are now so overcrowded that people are being held in police cells. Home secretary John Reid has asked the courts to make holding cells available to the prison service.
People are increasingly jailed for minor offences and offences that stem from poverty, such as defaulting on fines.
Prisons are also increasingly used to lock up people who have social problems, are sick or have addictions. A recent study found that some 70 percent of prisoners have some form of mental illness. This rises to 85 percent of 16 to 20 year olds in prison.
These people need medical and social care, not prison. Locking people up for being poor or sick is a scandal. Prison doesn't work. That is why Reid is not 'fit for purpose'.
Tory lies fuel racism
Tory leader David Cameron has tried to cultivate an image of being a caring and socially liberal kind of guy. But he revealed his true colours with his remarks on multiculturalism, Muslims and immigration this week.
Cameron began by attacking 'Muslim extremists', describing them as the 'mirror image' of the fascist British National Party (BNP). What he really means is that Muslims are the main enemy, not the Nazi BNP.
This is borne out by the rest of Cameron's speech, where he echoes the BNP's racism, attacking multiculturalism as 'divisive' and scaremongering over 'uncontrolled immigration' – two favourite themes of the fascists.
Tory think-tanks have also warmed to this theme, attacking young Muslims for becoming 'politicised'.
Politicians who pander to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment – whether Tory or New Labour – simply fuel the BNP by normalising its racist lies. Cameron's concern for 'community cohesion' is a sham, and his words will lead to more division not less.
Defend lone parents
The government wants to 'encourage' single parents to get back to work by cutting their benefits.
Single parents – mainly women – are already among the poorest and most despised by a system that tells them they are bad if they work, and lazy if they don't – unless they're rich, of course.
Labour minister John Hutton says this is not an attack on lone parents, but an attack on child poverty. Yet children of unemployed lone parents are five times more likely to be poor – which just proves that benefits are kept at poverty levels.
The government likes to talk about giving parents 'choice'. At the moment, for many that either means poverty levels of benefits or low-paid, inflexible work juggled with expensive childcare.
What we need is a decent welfare system to support people who cannot work, and decent, free childcare for those who can.