Stop this tragic and needless loss of life
Adam Rickwood, 14, was found hanged in a privately-run secure training centre in County Durham – a shocking tragedy that should never have been allowed to happen.
The overwhelming call for humane and rational reform of the criminal justice system and sentencing policy can no longer be ignored.
Britain’s treatment of young offenders is now firmly on the political agenda, and David Blunkett will need to respond in a way that signals a clear intention to deal with a serious and urgent problem. More than 150 inmates aged under 21 have apparently taken their own lives in the past ten years.
These institutionalised deaths are an affront to a society that seeks to be a civilised democracy. In England there are three secure training centres, which house children as young as 12.
They are smaller than young offender institutions, and are intended to provide supportive, secure custody for vulnerable young offenders. They offer a higher staff to inmate ratio.
However, the incarceration of vulnerable youngsters can no longer be justified. Children who commit such a serious and violent offence that public safety requires their detention should be held in local authority care.
All other children who commit offences should be managed in the community, using the wide variety of new schemes that are proving successful. Home secretary David Blunkett must shelve his plans to build more children’s prisons.
In a visit to Holloway prison in April he announced an astonishing plan to spend £16 million on building special prisons for teenage girls.
The uncontrolled rise in the prison population since Labour came to power is a shocking indictment of this government.
The needless loss of life in Britain’s penal institutions leaves an ugly stain on the record of Blair’s government.
Families have been torn apart by grief when their loved ones have died in the “care” of Her Majesty’s Prison Service.
I write as the grieving mother of the late Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died in January 2003 while in the so called care of the Styal young offender institution.
My daughter’s inquest will not be held until January 2005, when I shall demand answers about how and why my only child died.
Pauline B Campbell, Cheshire
Wrong on ASBOs?
In attacking Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), Beccy Palmer misses the fundamental point (Socialist Worker, 7 August).
When the rich or articulate become victims, the police and other authorities rush to their aid.
But for years few cared about those who slave in a low paid, dead-end job or who struggle on inadequate benefits.
Even fewer bothered about the working class people who had to endure misery from a tiny number making their neighbourhood hell.
ASBOs are one way of redressing the balance, and giving some power back to local communities neglected throughout the wasted Tory years.
They are not a panacea for curing the world’s ills but, if used only after less formal remedies have failed, ASBOs can help improve the lives of working class people.
Early intervention is one of the most important elements in reducing crime – not the zero tolerance codswallop Michael Howard refers to, but challenging unacceptable behaviour, and providing opportunities for everyone. That should be the central core of any crime reduction strategy.
If the left leaves working class areas undefended the Nazis will move in and exploit the situation.
Councillor Charles Joyce, Norfolk
Right on ASBOs?
You are right about ASBOs. I live on a large sink estate in Portsmouth.
There is nothing for the kids to do. The police have now introduced cops on bikes – a brilliant idea! They spent thousands on breaking up a gang by issuing ASBOs. They could have spent the money on things for the kids to do.
Pubs are closing and they are building a wine bar – why didn’t they build a youth club?
Pete Benjamin, Portsmouth
The eve of destruction for our folk festival?
THE FUTURE of Sidmouth International Folk Festival is at risk. The government and East Devon District Council will not properly fund what many consider to be one of the finest folk festivals in Europe.
Thousands of people from across the world attend the festival, which is 50 years old this year.
The event is well known for fostering international peace and friendship, and many young people from a variety of backgrounds join workshops to learn musical instruments and folk dances.
This year Tony Benn and Roy Bailey gave a concert on the history of dissent.
Australian folk group The Fagans sang songs from Australia’s rich history of working class struggle.
Over 100 people came together on Hiroshima Day to remember the bombing of that city, and to talk about the European Social Forum due to take place this October.
The future of the festival is in the balance – and all for less than the price of a Cruise missile.
The philistines in New Labour have spent £800 million on the Millennium Dome, which is now to be turned into a casino, while Sidmouth, which has been called a “national treasure”, is being starved of funding.
A petition was started at the festival.
Readers of Socialist Worker should also protest by writing to Tessa Jowell, Minister for Sport and Culture, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London.
Huw Pudner, Neath
Guantanamo Bay – families speak out
Full marks for your coverage of the statement from the lawyers of three British detainees who were released from Guantanamo (Socialist Worker, 14 August).
The statement makes disturbing reading for the families of British residents Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna.
Prior to setting off to the Gambia, where he was illegally rendered into US custody, Jamil was diagnosed as suffering from an acute form of diabetes, complicated by rheumatoid arthritis.
He was prescribed medication and a special diet by his doctor. During his time in US detention Jamil has lost 70 to 80 pounds in weight, and it is reported that the US authorities are refusing to treat his diabetes.
He is also reported be on the verge of total mental collapse.
Bisher al-Rawi has been interrogated at least 50 times under conditions of duress while in Guantanamo Bay.
He indicated to the Red Cross that he would not be writing any more letters home. His mother assures me that this is totally out of character, and she is now seriously concerned about his mental health.
The Pentagon’s failure to allow independent verification of the medical condition of detainees confirms the serious abuses that are being perpetrated by the Bush administration.
Mark Jennings, on behalf of the families of
Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna
The media and revolution
John Livingstone raises interesting points about the SWP, the media and revolution (Socialist Worker, 14 August).
For the revolution to have any chance of success, media workers would have taken control of the media, just as workers would have done in all other sections of society.
As a political organisation the SWP would be trying to influence the media. You can bet that during the revolution people will have a lot more interesting things to do than watch Big Brother.
Alan Watts, by email
Should adverts be banned?
I HAVE a few suggestions in response to John Livingstone’s letter about the media.
Ban advertising – as long as the media receive funds from advertising there will always be unfair reporting.
Or you could provide free newspapers – these would be state funded, but not state run.
Tougher monopoly and merger laws would make sure there was a market in the media, rather than seven huge corporations owning 90 percent of the world’s media.
Does anyone have any criticisms or anything to add to my suggestions?
Davy Prendergast, Bishop Auckland
Go and see this fantastic play
Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo’s fantastic play Guantanamo – Honour Bound to Defend Freedom is playing at the New Ambassadors Theatre in London until 4 September.
It examines the plight of the 600 “enemy combatants” held in the “legal black hole” of the US’s naval base.
“Anyone who is seriously interested in the values that sustain civilisation should see this production.” (And that’s the Financial Times talking!)
Berit Kuennecke, London
Opera for the masses?
I read Neil Davidson’s article on the history of the working class in Edinburgh (Socialist Worker, 7 August).
However, I was saddened by his apparent disdain for culture.
My friends are over from my home town of Turin, Italy, for the Edinburgh festival and, as shopfloor workers from Fiat, would not feel much empathy with the “global middle class”.
But in Italy opera is not considered the preserve of the middle classes, while here socialists determined to demonstrate their class awareness sneer at people who enjoy opera.
Gianni Fringillide, Edinburgh
Respect should not stand aside
Your article about a Labour activist leafleting the Respect selection meeting in Millwall asking Respect not to stand so as not to let the Tories in (Socialist Worker, 14 August) reminded me about my experience in Middlesbrough.
Last year I stood in the local ward of Middlehaven for the Socialist Alliance. A local Labour councillor telephoned me to tell me he was disappointed with me for doing so. I agreed not to stand if he would speak out against the war and council house sell-offs being proposed by Middlesbrough council and put this on his campaign material.
There was no fairytale ending, but I won nearly double the Tory vote.
Geoff Kerr-Morgan, Middlesbrough
Would Kerry pull troops out?
Tony Anderson says the results of the US presidential elections will have important implications for Iraq (Socialist Worker, 14 August).
But the more urgent question is whether the troops will be pulled out of Iraq. John Kerry has not said he will withdraw US troops from Iraq – in fact he has said he would send more armed forces there.
A vote for Kerry will do nothing to end the occupation of Iraq.
Adam Marks, East London