We prefer our criminals locked up

You say (Leader, 15 January) that "Once the penalty is exacted, the culprit should be released, assuming there is no likelihood of further offending". Unfortunately, this admirable sentiment raises a serious problem of its own: where the "penalty exacted" is imprisonment, there is every chance of reoffending because of the brutalising effect of our current prison system.

Public opinion, fanned by tabloid flames, would far rather see criminals locked up for years at a cost of more than £500 a week than treated in ways that offer a better chance of reform and lower risk of re-offending at much greater expense.

Harvey R Cole

This article first appeared in the 22 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: the great cover-up