Saturday, May 13, 2006

Lord Archer and Prison Reform

One of the signs of maturity is being able to agree with political opposites on occasion. Lord Archer is a Tory peer and under most circumstances I do not agree with his politics, he is in my opinion a mediocre writer, and he is not a suitable role model for anyone.

For those of you who are unaware of his background, the former party chairman of the Conservative Party was accused by the Daily Star of sleeping with a prostitute. He sued for libel and won damages, however he fabricated an alibi.

Years later, when he was standing for London Mayor concerns were raised about his suitability. A former personal secretary came forward with the story of the false alibi. Lord Archer was prosecuted for perjury and perverting the course of justice, and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.

He served two years of his sentence and was released in July 2003.

Since his release he has intimated he would only sit in the House of Lords for a debate on prison reform and he wants no further role in politics preferring to concentrate on his writing.

I overheard on the radio a recent interview where he talks about the problems of the prison system in the UK.

One major cause of criminal activity is the poor education keeping individuals trapped in a cycle of crime unable to gain employment. Prison should be seen very much as an intervention to rehabilitate criminals for society. Education for those that want or need it should be available.

Lord Archer pointed out that prisoners get paid for working whilst in prison. For menial tasks such as washing the floor they get £12 a week whilst those choosing to improve themselves by studying get only £8 a week (updated figures from the radio interview May 2006 – for which I have been unable to find a reference)

Yet almost ever day the government seems to come up with the latest multi-million pound scheme to reduce offending. Surely this is a relatively easy fix, if anything prisoners should be encouraged to study by being paid more. Through education it might be possible to break the cycle of crime and give some people the chance they desperately need.

Happily there are some points where I disagree with Lord Archer. He believes inmates should face a basic literacy test before being considered for a job or early release. I believe that although this could be something that should be considered for suitability for release, I think it should be optional. Forcing people to do anything never works and in this case could alienate an already disconnected group further from society.

Lord Archer has concerns about drugs policy in prisons, how the current policy encourages people to switch from soft to hard drugs because it is easier to pass random drugs tests on hard drugs. Drugs in prisons seems to be a very complex problem covering supply, policy and intervention. Lord Archer does not have all the answers but it continues the debate on drugs and crime.

Lord Archer, who may be stripped of his title under new legislation affecting lords with criminal records, may have learned some lessons from his time in prison that the politicians can never understand from their padded seats in Westminster.

Sources:

Radio interview May 2006 (source unknown)

BBC news website various articles.

1 comment:

eifion said...

A mediocre writer? You flatter him. Lord Archer cannot in his wildest dreams hope to even aspire to the dizzy heights of mediocrity.