In a new effort to rebalance the public finances, Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that prisoners reaching the end of their sentence in UK jails will no longer be released straight onto the streets, but will instead leave prison through a new HM Prisons Gift Shop.
‘The idea came to us during a Cabinet teambuilding trip to Alton Towers,’ May said. ‘We were all waiting for Nick Clegg to get off the teacups when Ken Clarke noticed that the exit took you straight through the gift shop, where you were pretty much guaranteed to spend money on overpriced tat. Cleggers came out with three teddy bears, a t-shirt that proclaimed ‘I took on the teacups – and won!’ and an oversized Alton Towers pencil.’
The scheme uses the principles of the captive market that have been used by entertainment venues for some time. Phil Taylor, the governor of Wormwood Scrubs, insisted that this is the perfect model for a prison. ‘You don’t get much more captive than jail,’ he explained. ‘Well, apart from Pentonville. Anyway, the only issue we had during trials was the lack of available cash the inmates have, so we do accept prison currency as well. Last week we took some tobacco, a Playstation, and half a kilo of cocaine.’
However, critics of the scheme have likened the HMP Gift Shop scheme to ‘extortion’. Human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti complained: ‘Selling overpriced gifts to remind people of their extended visits is one thing, but selling souvenir photos from the showers for £10.50 is an expensive way to breach their human rights. It may be the only ride they have, but that doesn’t make it right.’
Criticism has also come from former prisoners. Robert Goods, who has just served six months for shoplifting, described his experience. ‘I was given my belongings in a bag in one hand, and an empty shopping basket in the other. The prices of the items was so expensive it was criminal. I don’t know how they sleep at night, they should be locked up. That said, as a persistent offender, I am glad they started giving Nectar points. Three more stretches and I’ll have enough points for a weekend at Center Parcs.’
Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the plans and said he thinks the experience for prisoners will be a positive one. ‘Not only are they being released from prison, but they also get the chance to spend money and help the economy,’ he told a press conference. ‘And as someone with close friends from News International and the banking sector, I know they’ll welcome the chance to remember their sentences.’