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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Life in an open prison
Lord Archer leaves the Theatre Royal in Lincoln
Lord Archer - aka Prisoner FF8282 - on day release
A job in the theatre, Sunday lunches at home... Lord Archer's time in prison is not quite what many people thought it might be. What are conditions like inside an open prison?

Monday must have seemed like a return to old times for the disgraced peer Jeffrey Archer.

Billboard for his play The Accused
Perjury charges came as he made his stage debut
The author and sometime-actor parked his black BMW and walked to the theatre where he now works, tailed by reporters - just as he was in the days before he was jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

For it was his first day as a backstage helper at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln, 40 miles from the North Sea Camp open prison where he resides.

The Home Office says day release jobs - which help prepare an inmate for a future outside prison - are a valuable part of the prison sentence.

Lord Archer arrives for work in Lincoln
Lord Archer is allowed to drive his own BMW
Newspapers have questioned whether a five-day-week job making tea and shifting props, as well as visits to his 1.5m mansion, will be punishment enough for the convicted peer.

While day-release programmes are most common in open prisons, Category C inmates who are nearing the end of their time in a closed facility may be allowed out to work - but only if the prison can afford to run the scheme and employers can be found.

A life less extraordinary

Lord Archer may no longer be living a champagne lifestyle but neither is it the popular image of porridge.

Crowded jails
  • Prison population in England and Wales is at record high - 73,000
  • It costs about 27,000 a year to keep someone behind bars
  • Home Secretary David Blunkett wants to expand open prisons and "weekend jails"
  • He wants "light-touch, reasonably secure facilities outside cities and towns"
  • Conditions in the open prison are a step up from his first three weeks behind bars. At top-security Belmarsh in south London, the millionaire writer scrubbed floors and was locked up for 16 hours a day in a two-bunk cell with a fellow inmate.

    He was then moved to a medium-security facility and, late last year, to North Sea Camp after being downgraded from a Category C to a Category D "low risk" prisoner.

    He no longer has to sleep in a cell. Instead Lord Archer, like other inmates, has his own room with his own key. There is a small TV on which he watches the cricket, a bed, locker, table and chair.

    William and Mary Archer
    His son, William, and wife, Mary, visit regularly
    His wife, Mary, and sons, William and James, smile down from family photos as he cracks on with his latest novel.

    Prisoners, many of them white-collar criminals doing time for fraud and deception, can spend most of the day roaming the facility.

    Activities include academic classes, business studies or technical training, as well as work in the community. But they are expected to show up for daily roll calls.

    Who is Category C?
    Someone who cannot be trusted in open conditions but does not have resources and will to escape
    Lord Archer reportedly almost missed his 7pm curfew on Sunday. After spending the day with his family, he is said to have lost his way and flagged down a passing police car to ask directions.

    While no fan of prison food, Lord Archer no longer shuns the grub on offer as he is said to have done at Belmarsh.

    Who is Category D?
    Someone trusted to serve their sentence in open conditions
    Source: Prison Service
    But a wider range of options is on offer in the open prison, allowing the health-conscious convict to opt for cereal and toast rather than a slap-up fried breakfast.

    It is just as well Lord Archer is getting used to life inside. He is one year into a four-year sentence and he still has at least another year to go before being considered for release.

    See also:

    19 Aug 02 | England
    22 Jul 02 | England
    26 Nov 01 | UK
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