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Home > Culture and Society

Out of the pen

Jeffrey Archer sets his jaw firmly against the crashing waves of irony and proposes that prisoners should be given a literacy test...

3 October 2003

It has recently been suggested that not only should Jeffrey Archer have his peerage taken away, he should also have his tongue torn from his mouth and his fingers removed, slowly, perhaps with some kind of cheese grater.

Then again, it has also been suggested that far from castigating the man, we should actually be thanking the good Lord above that Archer took it upon himself to have sex with that prostitute, and then lied about it in a court of law, and was then found out, and then went to jail, and then served his time and learned his lesson, and was then released.

Because if it wasn’t for Archer, how on earth would we know what a terrible state our prisons are in? How would we know that they’re full of illiterate junkies? How good of him then, to turn his ghastly criminal past into something which can benefit society as a whole.

Actually, there is a grain of truth in this. Not about him being good obviously, but the fact is, Archer was one of around thirty contributors who spoke at the annual Howard League for Penal Reform Conference last month, and he was the only one who made the headlines. In doing so he has brought more attention to the issue of penal reform than anyone else. Which has to be a positive thing. But then he had to go and spoil it all. He had to go and let the absolute shit inside him ruin everything.

Not content with highlighting the plight of inmates who are paid more to peel potatoes than to learn to read and write, he went on to suggest punishing those who simply don’t shape up.

Director of the Howard League, Frances Cook, dismissed Archer’s suggestion that prisoners should be denied parole if they don’t pass a literacy test. “This must be part of Lord Archer’s authoritarian nature,” she said, politely. Prison campaigner and one-time prisoner, Mark Leech, was more direct, labelling the idea ‘nonsense’. “Maybe he should go back to prison and try again,” he said.

Maybe he should. Maybe he will. Although if liberty is to be denied to those who can’t write, maybe he should never have been allowed out in the first place.




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