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Paroled UK Author Archer Calls for Prison Reform

Thu Sep 18, 5:48 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - British novelist and disgraced politician Jeffrey Archer will call on Thursday for illiterate prisoners to be refused parole unless they pass a reading and writing test.

"This could result in thousands of prisoners returning to society with their minds, rather than just their muscles, expanded," he was due to tell a conference held by the Howard League for Penal Reform in Oxford.

Archer, who was released on parole in July after two years in jail for perjury, said prisoners were discouraged from signing up for full-time education because it meant earning half as much as those who did prison duties.

"A better-educated prisoner is surely more likely to get a job after leaving prison and is therefore less likely to reoffend," he said in an advance copy of his speech.

Archer was jailed in 2001 for perjury and perverting the cause of justice after lying in a libel trial against a newspaper which said he had had sex with a prostitute.

The former Conservative party deputy chairman, best-selling author and member of the House of Lords also called for an end to delays which meant many first-time offenders began their prison life "among the professors of crime."

He said that after conviction it could take three weeks for police to decide what category of prison to send an offender to, meaning that many first-time offenders ended up sharing cells with hardened criminals before a transfer to an open prison.

Archer -- prisoner FF8282 -- was himself sent for three weeks after his trial to the high-security Belmarsh jail near London, which houses "terrorists, murderers, rapists, drug barons" as well as other violent offenders.

He said prison governors should have a more relaxed attitude to cannabis use among prisoners and reserve the most serious anti-drug sanctions -- such as transfer from an open back to a closed prison -- to heroin abuse.

Because heroin is less likely to be discovered by a drugs test than cannabis, Archer said inmates who entered jail as social marijuana smokers turned to the more damaging drug to avoid detection and as a result left prison as heroin addicts.