I TAKE no side in the furore over the release of Mairead Philpott after eight-and-a half years in prison for her part in the reckless criminal conspiracy which killed her six children.

I note, however, that freeing her at 39 carries a risk which would have been greatly reduced by keeping her in prison for just a few more years. Of all the possible outcomes, placing further children into her care seems the least desirable.

I am a sceptic regarding the role of prison to punish, deter or reform. It’s benefit, greatly reduced by periods of freedom between prison stretches, lies in physically preventing the inmate from committing more crimes and fathering children who would have him as a role model.

Children for criminals is an issue we must face up to. Pressure is likely to mount for prisoners to have conjugal visits and to father children remotely via artificial insemination. If we feel that someone is fit to be a parent, why are we incarcerating them?

I am fundamentally opposed to compulsory sterilisation. I see a case, however, for offering voluntary but irreversible sterilisation as an alternative to a prison sentence (or part of a sentence) which is awarded on its own merits and not to coerce the prisoner into accepting sterilisation.

I hope that conventional prisons will give way to more humane and effective ‘permanent exclusion settlements’ for more serious or persistent offenders.

If we make this reform, the one improvement we cannot afford the inhabitants is the freedom to have children. This is for the sake of those children, but also because we will need these places to accommodate future generations of criminals. The population of such settlements must not become self-replacing.

John Riseley, Harrogate.