Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Crime & punishment

If a child commits a crime that is likely to have them sent to prison, but they are under a certain age then their names are not allowed to be published. This is useless as a deterent. The crime and the punishment becomes abstract, but if the names were known then the local community would know who they were and would be able to put a face to the crime and more important the punishment.
I have written before at some length how I feel some kinds of crime should be punished, but there are other serious crimes that need to be taken into consideration. Surely every prisoner who goes into prison should have some form of psychlogoical examination. Some of the most serious offenders suffer from toxic memeory and if they have been sentenced to a long time in prison then there is the opportunity to give them expert help. The prison population needs to be reduced, not by just releasing people because of the lack of room but those people who shouldn't be there. The non-payment of fines, those that have a mental disorder who need medical help. Some alcohol related crimes should be sent to a specialist prison hospitals. This is not to give them a soft time as it will involve the coming off any addictions they may have, drugs drink and probably others that I dont know or wish to know which would undoubtedly be unpleasent.
The prison service needs a huge overhaul. The prison officers should be paid a lot more money. They should be given the opportunity to study for hihger criminal, socialwork and psychological quilifications. Actually create a proffesion of being a prison officer rather than a job.Their working conditions improved, but also the sentences for officers who transgress the law by muggling drugs, mobile phones etc. in to prison should be double that of a person on the outside. Any solicitor found smuggling should also be harshly sentenced as well as being disbarred. But more importantly the prison officers should be given the support of a team of psychologists who can regularly exam inmates and give the officers an updted report and an accuarte prognosis. This may go to help stop incidents before they happen but also as a warning for possible suicides. I don't mean one overwork psychiatrist who turns up every thursday for two hours but a proper team, of four or five well qualified professionals.Like the prison officers the inmates should be given the opportunity to study for qualifications that will help them on the outside, not the education they get now in how to be a better criminal.
We have to make up our mind as to what system we want, rehabilitation or revenge. Its one or the other. Prisoners need to be isolated from society, however they also need to be helped, but that doesn't mean tv or porn magazines and certainly not class A drugs. The idea of having small cells which leads to overcrowded prisons is useless. We need a decent system that treats prisoners as human beings but not as members of society. They have forgone that by committing a crime. They have to be punished but it also means that they need to be helped. A reoffender starts to get less priviledges. Crimes of violence get no privilidges at all. The idea of hard labour when people pointlessly do hard tasks, they used to break rocks into smaller and smaller bits for years on end, might stop them for reoffending. No one would want to go back.
Is this too harsh, yes I suppose it is, but an act of violence is not fun, it leaves the victim traumatised and sometimes they are unable to carry on a normal life, become a prisoner of their own fears. It goes back to the names being shown and the crime being made human. Violence isn't abstract and in the 21st Century its outdated and unnaccetable.


I agree with the previous posting about looking to Europe as a guide to recycling. In Belgium ( yes again) there is a school that has been designed with movable walls, so that in the Summer the classes can be opened up to make cooler and in Winter the reverse happens, but the clever thing is that they use the heat from the kids running about during the day to heat the school rooms. I look at some of the schools in this country and I am amazed that some still have pre-war radiators that send any hot air straight out of the window. If we are going to take recycling in this country at all seriously then we should be charged for the bags we put out, but also if it was worked out on the average per house, then a rebate could be given for the amount of green bags put out.
My council, bless their unbleached fair trade cotton socks are really good, we have the paper, glass and tins box, though this is far too small to cope with the amount of newspapers and junk mail we get through in a week and once a fortnight we get a gardening recycling collection, by far the most useful, but this could be improved by the design of a municipal recycling bin that would seperate and store until the collection. At the moment I have to collect the plastic cartons and packaging and then go to the tip. Surely if we want to get ahead of the recycling regime then there has to be an incentive all round.
I like the comment that house builders don't like putting in green products like solar panels because it is too expensive, well guess what its the law. All new builds have to be energy effecient, and in my mind that means solar panels. So would someone like to tell me why there hasn't been one prosecution lately? With house prices the way they are, I cannot believe that builders are cutting costs to the bone so lets have a few more energy effecient and green houses.
Also the government are very good at telling us to get on the green bandwagon, so lets start seeing some of the ministers cars using bio fuels, converted diesel engines that use vegetable oils and some form of legislation which means that if a new car is sold the owner would have the opportunity to have the car converted to bio fuel at no extra cost to themselves, and the manufacturer would be able to get a tax refund on that car.
Putting tax on things to prevent people buying them has never worked. When I smoked the increase on cigarettes never stopped me, so why should anybody stop using their car if petrol goes up. It should be positive and negative together. Tax rebates that follow the green line and tax increases for those that don't. Then maybe the car manufacturers and the fuel companies would start thinking about the alternatives. Its not rocket science is it?
We have to look to Europe, for example in Germany all taps are fitted with their own little stop valve, so that if a washer need replacing, you don't have to turn off the whole water system, including the pilot light for the central heating etc.etc. but just a little twist and the water is cut off from that one tap enabling you to change the washer or whatever. Its simple things like that that make it easier for everybody. Its easier to replace the washer for the plumber, for you and me. If you know its going to be a pain then we all leave a job until it finally gets out of hand and its going to cost a lot to repair. Imagine the water lost from a dripping tap over a week, a month two months. Its the small things that make the difference.
Try buying milk from a milkman, who delivers. Generally they use the most local herds and deliver in an electric vehicle. Its a small thing but agin if all the small things were put end to end, some corporation would charge rent for its going on their land.
Benjamin Franklin once said that
"for the want of anail the shoe was lost,
for the want of the shoe the horse was lost
for the want of the horse the rider was lost
for the want of the rider the message was lost
for the want of the message the battle was lost
for the want of the battle the war was lost
all for the wamnt of a horseshoe nail"
If you think in terms of global warming which has become rebranded as climate change it the small things that make the difference. I rest my case.

Who to vote for?

Some time ago Chris and I sent our manifesto to the Liberal Democrats along with some suggestions for campaigning at the next election. we are not members and both have a history of voting for other parties at times. However, we also both sensed a merging (to the right) of the Labour and Tory parties, along with an apparently media lead campaign to reduce politics to a simple two way battle. We were lucky enough to be invited to speak to Ed Davey and travelled to london to explain our concerns. It seems likely that a general election will be called before the end of the year and so we have to start thinking about who we should vote for (at this point I will refer only to my own views). In some areas there are clearly going to be two way splits, in others it may be three. I shall vote for the Liberal Democrats not out of support but out of protest. However, I wish it was out of support as the LDs have an opportunity to offer a real, substantive choice to the British electorate. Rather than worry about health or education or law, let me refer only to one simple issue. At the next election, the winning party will not gain more than 38% of the votes. Probably with only 65% of the electorate voting. This means that less than 28% of those eligible to vote will vote for a Government that will then claim a mandate from the people and force through legislation that much of the population will not agree with. The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have promoted the idea of electoral reform and the possibility fo some kind of proportional representation. meaning that more people will be able to influence Government policy. For this reason if no other I will be voting for the Liberal democrats and I urge all other people who are not driven by support of a party when voting to consider this as their best option.

The age of criminal responsibility

I think this may have been referred to elsewhere but I mention it again because of an article in the paper today in which a judge refused to find a youth of 15 guilty of (I think it was) ABH because the judge felt the youth was too young to understand how dangerous it was to fire an air rifle at another person's face.

Excuse me while I walk away for a moment to find a quiet place to lie down for fear that my head might otherwise explode.

There, that's better. Let us revisit this. A four year old is able to understand that taking a biscuit without asking is wrong and will consequently lie when asked, even when their face is covered in melted chocolate. They understand the difference between right and wrong (no I'm not suggesting we prosecute 4 year olds). As an adult I cannot claim I didn't realise how serious my action was as a way of mitigating my action (or perhaps I can). What did the youth in question think would happen? Have we bred a generation compleetly incapable of empathising, or at least putting themselves in the shoes of others? Perhaps if we assume the worst and work backwards this would discourage people. For example, let's assume that if I jump on someone's head it is only a matter of luck if I don't kill them, that is, I should expect that jumping on their head will kill them. Consequently I should be charged with attempted murder. Given that health and safety is quite widespread and that most people would understand the concept of risk assessment it follows that we could draw up a list of actions and consequences so that the laws can be based on what might happen. If people truely understood how easy it is to kill someone by smashing a ton of metal into them, perhaps they might be more inclined to drive with due care and attention.

What should the age of criminal responsibility be? Clearly this is something that should be considered carefully by an appropriate range of people. I'm inclined to suggest 12, with parents being prosecuted for the crimes of those under 12. Of course I would also introduce a curfew so that anyone under the age of 12 could not be out on their own after 7.30, since to allow this to happen would seem to be negligence on the part of the parent. The most difficult group are the 13-17 year olds and whilst I think the police should have greater powers to deal with gangs of youths (if we can capure them on film then why can't they be arrested and prosecuted?), I also think that central and local government has a responsibility to offer young people an alternative to hanging around on street corners (youth clubs, community centres, scouts, guides etc.)


Below is an article that appeared in todya's Guardian:

From mountain to molehill
Flanders' range of initiatives - from rubbish charges to keeping chickens - are dramatically cutting wasteSophie UnwinWednesday September 26, 2007
GuardianProsperity has come at a price in Belgium. As affluence has grown, so has the country's waste mountain - a problem that all governments are finding increasingly hard to ignore.
However, the region of Flanders in Belgium claims to have found a solution, and the world's waste authorities are beating a path to its door. Since 2005, its population has increased and the region has got richer, but the total amount of waste generated has stayed the same. In economists' terms, Flanders has "decoupled" waste from economic growth, and delegations from Russia, China and the UK have all been there recently to find out how they have done it.
Britain is particularly interested. UK figures for total amounts of household waste are roughly comparable with those of Flanders, but there are startling differences: Flanders' recycling rates of 72% in rural areas and over 60% in urban areas are among the highest in the world, dwarfing England's 28%.
One small part of the answer was last week strutting around the suburban garden of Vigoreux Aime, 71. He proudly showed off his chickens - red and black bantams and white leghorns that he keeps for the eggs. He says: "They eat everything - grass cuttings too wet for the compost, and they even love bones."
The chickens are part of Flanders' system of taxes and incentives to reduce its waste mountain. The public waste agency, Ovam, has allowed local authorities to introduce subsidies for a range of waste prevention measures - from compost bins, to chickens and reuse centres.
At the spotless civic amenity centre in Ghent, the different waste categories are organised into dozens of disposal units. There is one for batteries, one for chip pan oil (which will eventually be used as vehicle fuel), and others for furniture, paper, wood and cans. There's even a place where dead pets can be brought for cremation.
And Flanders is well down the track of getting people to pay for what they waste - the system Britain is considering. Under the current system, Ghent citizens can make up to 24 free separate visits a year to drop off their bulky waste. Other recyclable goods are collected for free on separate well-publicised days for each type of material. But households have to pay to dispose of the waste they don't recycle. In Ghent, the price is €1.30 (67p) a sack for any rubbish that cannot be recycled.
Flanders can avoid landfilling largely because it burns most of its waste. The local incinerator in Ghent, next to Ovam's offices, was refurbished in 1996 and takes 100,000 tonnes of waste a year. Last year, it started to recover energy as steam, using it to heat the university hospital 1km away, via a pipeline. Flanders' planning laws, designed to phase out landfill, do place strict limits and quality standards on incineration. But while Ghent has a state of the art "energy from waste plant", incineration is still considered controversial by environment groups and there is no avoiding that there are problems with it.
Ovam's taxes and local authority subsidies are the extension of the principle that the polluter pays. Landfill is taxed at €75 a tonne, while incineration is taxed at just under €7. When the scheme was introduced 10 years ago, waste fell by 30%.
Paul Dobbelaere, general manager of Ivago, the public-private partnership that manages the waste - recyclable and not - of the 250,000 people of Ghent and its neighbour Destelbergen, says: "You have be sure you pick up all the waste. Once that's achieved, you must find an outlet for everything you collect."
Constant demand
Dobbelaere counters the suggestion that the new incinerator that heats the hospital could increase waste figures because of its constant demand for rubbish. It always runs to full capacity, he says, but the city only supplies 60% of its waste. This way, Ivago can earn an income from companies that pay to dispose of their waste - the remaining 40%.
Ivago says people have bought into the whole recycling waste system, and the authorities have communicated the recycling scheme well - not just what they collect, and when, but in leaflets that explain why.
The people of Ghent, it seems, are mostly impressed. "It was so good it meant the council got re-elected," says chocolatier Mia Ackaert.
What has proved more difficult has been reaching the poorer communities in the city centre. Recycling rates are lower here, at 62%. A government law means that Ovam is allowed to communicate only in Flemish, which makes it hard to reach the many different immigrant communities. With high-rise blocks, it is difficult to tell who is responsible for which waste, so some of the central chutes down which people used to throw unsorted rubbish have been blocked up by Ivago.
If a scheme works well, it is probably less likely to be due to any public initiative than to the enthusiasm of individuals - such as Willy Vennaman, a 68-year-old former boxer who is concierge of one block of flats. He sifts through dumped bags of rubbish to identify who has illegally left them, then puts the bag outside their front door. "They don't do it again," he says.
Another scheme flourishing in Ghent is the Kringwinkel chain of "reuse" stores, in which goods are dismantled and repaired. Rows of washing machines and fridges sit next to stripped-off components such as computer cables. The white goods come with six-month guarantees. "Everything can be reused," says the manager, Els Dujen. "There is demand for everything we supply - if it's priced appropriately."
"The message is clear: whether it's cheap chickens, affordable secondhand white goods or expensive rubbish, ultimately, the key is pricing - backed up with well-designed and communicated systems," says Dominic Hogg, a waste consultant, who has visited the region's project and who will soon be advising the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on waste prevention policy.
This year's long-awaited UK waste strategy set for the first time important targets to decrease residual waste - "the amount of waste not recycled, reused or composted". What has been harder, in the UK and in Flanders, has been trying to prevent the waste generated in the first place.
Rachel Eburne, interim director of the Women's Environmental Network, says: "Waste prevention cuts right against the grain of consumer society," she says. "But our experience shows there's huge potential to promote a different model of business - promoting services over products and prioritising quality and durability over 'convenient' disposable items."
Ray Georgeson, director of policy for the UK government's waste and resources action plan, points out the dilemma at the heart of the subject: "No government is in the business of saying we need less stuff." As for charging, he says: "We're positive about the potential for charging, but only if the right elements are in place, such as comprehensive recycling schemes."
The question now is whether the UK will have the courage to follow the lead given by Flanders.
· Sophie Unwin writes for the Ends Report environmental policy journal
· © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Perhaps if everyone put a little more effort into getting things done, rather than saying why things can't be done then we could make the world a better place. It's not just about the environment or global warming, it's about common sense. We have to recognise that resources are finite, so finding new ways to increase the efficiency of our usage makes perfect sense, and could save a lot of money. I'm reminded of a piece on Radio 4 about a railway station (I forget where) that is using the vibrations from the trains to power lights.

While I'm at it, would all the people who object to wind farms for aesthetic reason please explain how they can put up with the miles of pylons that litter the country. I know which I'd rather look at.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

A dogs life

The case of one child being killed and others wounded by dogs, either illegal or legal brings to question about the reasoning of not having a dog licence. Surely the best way of coping with dangerous dogs is to have all dogs registered. Years ago this would have been impossible but with computer techniques and micro chipping this is no longer impossible.
The idea behind it is this. Any dog born in this country or imported would be registered for a fee, if the dog is not registered which would include chipping then the owner would be fined, however if the dog is found to be an illegal breed then the owner would face a five year mandatory prison sentence. The owner of the dog that recently chilled a child was given two months. His action in buying that dog has been the instrumental in the death of a child. Thats not just the death but also taking away its future, the children she might have had, the wonders she would have experienced or even the discoveries that might have been a cure for cancer. We will never know now will we?
The positive outcomes are two fold, it would stop owners just dumping the dogs in the street to fend for themselves and cause extra burdens on the already overwhelmed dogs homes, as the owner could be found through the data base. If the dog is sold or given away then the new owner would have to fill out a registration document, like a car. The five year sentence should discourage some potential owners that think its cool to own an illegal breed. It should also cut down the numbers of dogs being used for dog fighting.
A breed of dog which has been specifically bred for the purposes of fighting is a potential killer and those that sell, own or use them should be treated in the same way as anybody who carries a weapon.
Its not the dogs fault but they pay the ultimate price.
I cannot believe that in this day and age that the RSPCA is a charity. It should be part of the police force and consequently have the same powers of detection and arrest. This worthwhile and invaluable organisation is supported by charitable donations. I'm sorry but even a new recruit policeman should with his ear to the ground know someone on his patch with an unruly dog. The police have got to start being part of the community rather just policing it. Their dog handlers should go around schools showing how to recognise the difference between a good and a bad dog, so if they see this type of dog in the park just tell their teacher. Simplistic? Yes and if being simple can save another child from being mauled by a dog then so be it.