01:07, June 07 314 0 theguardian.com

2020-06-07 01:07:03
Letters: lockdown life in prison is a scandal

You report the comment of the justice minister, Lucy Frazer, that there are increased risks in adult prisons because “prisoners will spend more time in their cells, which we recognise may increase the risk of self-harm or violence” (“Fears grow for children in detention forced to spend most of day in cells”, News). This government has chosen lockdown as a deliberate strategy to avoid dealing with the political fallout from early release.

Prisons are overcrowded and unhygienic. The secretary of state has publicly accepted that the prison population will need to be reduced and a substantial number of prisoners will need to be released in order to save lives in response to Covid-19. On present accommodation levels, between 10,000 and 15,000 would have to be released to achieve single-cell occupancy. As of 14 April 2020, according to figures from the Howard League, just 18 people had been released under the schemes. Meanwhile, 16 people (13 prisoners and three members of staff) had by then died as a result of Covid-19.

Instead of early release, the Ministry of Justice has moved to implement a restricted regime. This stopped all social visits, education, training, access to gyms and general association, and introduced restrictions on numbers of people in exercise yards. In other words, the response to Covid-19 was to make prison life yet more restrictive, while allowing only a trickle of early releases.

This government had the option of releasing low-risk prisoners to ease numbers and chose instead a policy that makes prisoners’ lives worse, simply because it assumed it could get away with it.

Nick Moss

London NW10

Hockney’s inconvenient truth

Defending smoking, David Hockney (Letters) reminds me of his fellow smoker John Comber in your Clacton-on-Sea vox pop (“It is common sense that is saving us now”, News). Hockney concludes “my smoking is a trivial thing blown out of all proportion”. Your seaside interviewee thought“coronavirus has been overrated”. But, mentioning petrol fumes, Hockney hinted at an important truth. We are in a phase of dirty unlocking, urging people to avoid public transport but use cars for trips they cannot walk or cycle. The climate crisis still gains urgency. The danger is that the clean air of early lockdown will be but a footnote in the narrative of environmental catastrophe. As our country botches its way out of lockdown, let us look to an alternative future where we can again encourage sociable forms of transport that protect the local and global environment.

Stephen Waring

Halifax, W Yorks

BBC too quick to give ground

Will Hutton is right to say that the BBC is too quick to give in to bullies (“Maitlis’s ‘sin’ was nothing compared with real, deliberate assaults on truth”, Comment). I have personal experience.

For many years I was an occasional guest on the Andrew Marr Show and, before that, Frost on Sunday, reviewing the papers. One morning I said that Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens was the stupidest man in England – surely not a controversial view. But people who dish out abuse in the tabloids are often ultra-sensitive themselves, and Hitchens complained, claiming that technically he had not actually said what was clearly the message on the page. I was phoned by a BBC executive who told me they were going to apologise on their website. I had no say in the matter and, as Hutton points out, there is no due process. Quite against my will the BBC said I had been wrong. I took no further action: I didn’t think anyone cared, except Hitchens. I was never invited on the show again.

Ken Follett

Stevenage, Herts

Masks make life hell

“As most of us use face masks and rely on eye contact, how will it change the way we communicate?” asks a headline in the Self and Wellbeing section of the Observer Magazine. But even the most expressive, kohl-rimmed, mascara’d eyes cannot convey all that a profoundly deaf or even hard-of-hearing person needs to know, especially in life-or-death circumstances. A physician on TV admitted that when he is in full PPE he cannot hear himself properly, let alone colleagues and patients.

My deaf daughter-in-law is about to give birth. She will need her hearing mother locked in with her for the duration, to interpret medical advice/instructions/explanations in sign language. From a possibly steamy visor, the mum-to-be will be unable to discern congratulations or concern from just the eyes of obstetrician, midwife or mother.

Fun to flirt above a mask? Maybe. Not such fun to flounder in circumstances when masks make lipreading impossible and words unintelligible, and even normal body language is hampered.

Jenny Froude

Beckenham, Kent

An everyday story of dull folk

How I agree with Miranda Sawyer regarding the new format of The Archers (Radio review): totally dull and frankly not worth giving up 15 minutes of your life for, however much time you have to spare at the moment. I acknowledge the difficulties of broadcasting but the archive episodes were much more worthwhile, even though I took issue with the gloomy choice – Kirsty being stood up at the altar, the Grundys being evicted, the floods.

My fellow enthusiasts and I will be putting The Archers on hold until they drop this boring format. Surely as it’s radio it must be technically possible to cobble together something like the original. I fear they may lose fans who will be disinclined to return.

Mary Evans

Heathfield, East Sussex

The trouble with tourism

Shaun Walker’s quote at the end of his excellent piece on the future of city tourism (“Glad you’re not here… stag party capitals eye ‘classier’ kind of tourist”, News)encapsulates all that is good about tourism and all that has gone so wrong in the past couple of decades: “When the locals are happy, the visitors will be as well.”

Will the unsustainable obsession with increasing visitor numbers at the expense of communities and environments at last be discarded by governments and industry leaders?

The talk in industry webinars is already about how to get back to growth, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic will be a rediscovery of the equilibrium between host and guest and a new respect for the places we visit on holiday. We may remember a place with fleeting fondness but maybe now we’ll also acknowledge that to those living there, it’s home.

Alison Stancliffe

Newcastle upon Tyne


I’ve really enjoyed the variety of puzzles and quizzes to get me through another lockdown Sunday but your spot the difference featuring Dominic Cummings (New Review) inspired me to rediscover the simple pleasure of throwing a dart or two.

Ian Grieve


W Sussex