Birds and jailbirds - saving grace?

William Blake wrote: A Robin Redbreast in a cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage. Prisons may be a good place for conservation education to begin. And prisoners may turn out to be the most sincere conservationists. But the general public - many of whom are better off incarcerated - had better let prisoners be. The Observer has carried a very heartwarming report on two prisons in the UK - Spring Hill and Bullingdon - where prisoners have kept themselves busy fashioning nest boxes from scrap wood for the Royal Society for Protection of Birds. For conservation, where any number of volunteers is never enough, this is a vital shot in the arm Heartwarming? A lot of people don't think so. While prison authorities feel that doing good work enhances prisoners' feelings of self-worth and enable them to think of a life beyond crime, many people (obviously those who live outside prisons) want them to live the hard life and suffer for it. A sense of well being, they argue, is anathema to the idea of imprisoning wrongdoers. It's a throwback to the old argument over imprisonment itself. Time is high for activists - both human rights and animal rights - to agree on something. But the more obvious question is: Where are they when you need them?