Prison shops cheaper than Tesco: SPS bosses accused of running “glorified discount store”


PRISON bosses have been accused of running a “glorified discount store” after it emerged inmates are gifted nearly £1 million to spend on half-price groceries.

A comparison check found it is even cheaper to shop in prison than in Tesco.

Cons earn cash through duties such as laundry or cooking to spend in their lock-up shop.

Prisoners are given a cell-wage to spend on cheaper products
Prisoners are given a cell-wage to spend on cheaper products


But they also receive a £5-a-week “cell wage” if they don’t work, costing the public purse more than £18,000 a week.

Inmates can even buy a 42p Mars bar and 10 cigarettes for £3.35.

Prison bosses claimed the pricing of goods in their shops was “appropriate”.

But critics described giving prisoners pocket money to spend on discounted goods as “grossly unfair”.

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) revealed the costs of the prison shops in a document published on their website.

A comparison check on 11 identically branded and weighted items such as tobacco, sweets, cereal and shampoo found prison shops were nearly £3 cheaper.

The online basket of Tesco came to a grand total of £22.14 – the same products on the prison list comes to £19.44.

Noted differences include Mars bars and a Twix that were both priced the same – 42p in prison but 59p at Tesco.

A 10 pack of Lambert and Butler cigarettes sell in Tesco for £3.95 but the SPS sell them for £3.35.

A Lynx roll-on deodorant stick in prison costs just £1.60 but law-abiding shoppers have to fork out £2.

A tube of barbecue flavoured Pringles in Tesco costs £2.48 – but the SPS shopping list has it at just £2.

The issue of the £5 wages emerged in Parliament in January.


“Pocket money”

SPS chief executive Colin McConnell revealed details of hourly wages for working prisoners

He said: “Wages are paid to prisoners dependent on the type of work and the level of training and skills required carrying out the task.

“There are no set hours that are required to work to receive this weekly wage.

“Wages paid to prisoners are the same across the SPS for the same task in all public sector establishments.

“Wage payments range from £5 per week for unemployed to £18 per week (plus £3 for prisoners in open conditions).”

Last year’s figures show there were 8,178 prisoners in Scotland.

But the SPS said “there are 4451 work placements currently underway within the prison population.”

This means the 3,727 prisoners who don’t work cost the public purse £18,635 per week, £74,540 a month or £969,020 a year.

Taxpayer Scotland blamed the free cash and discounted shops for encouraging laziness in prisoners.

Spokesman Eben Wilson said:  “To see money spent on prisoners for no work done is hugely annoying.

“Are the prison service saying there is absolutely nothing these convicts can do?

“This practice appears to reinforce indolence and a something-for-nothing culture.

“Can giving our money away help criminals learn that self-esteem and the respect of others comes from hard work and its just rewards?”

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “We know Scotland’s jails are too soft with Sky TV and pool tournaments the order of the day.

“Now we learn sweets and cigarettes are half the price they are on the outside world.

“Jails are supposed to be a form of punishment, not a glorified discount store.

“We know they’re expensive to run, but part of that cost should not be to reduce the cost of treats.

“Prisoners should not be given money for nothing. Money earned could go towards a victim support fund, paying outstanding fines and child maintenance.

“Then, by the time they’re released, they’ll be in a much better position to find gainful employment.”

A spokeswoman for Mothers Against Murder and Aggression said: “There should be no payments made to inmates serving custodial sentences that have not, in some way been, earned.

“It is ridiculous to think prisoners are being paid any amount, simply for being there.

“At a time when those bereaved by homicide are having to plead their cases for benefit payments to appeal panels this situation seems grossly unfair.”



The Scottish Prison Service insisted the £5 “cell wage” is given to inmates so they can contact loved ones while in prison.

A spokeswoman said: “Prisoners who are not in employment whilst in custody do receive a £5 per week ‘cell wage’.

“[This] can be used by prisoners towards the costs of telephoning their loved ones and mailing letters.

“There can be a variety of reasons why a prisoner is unable to work, such as being in segregation, disability or illness.

“At any one time approximately 15 – 20% of offenders in custody are held on remand and those held on remand cannot be compelled to work.”

Prison bosses also claimed they never sell anything for less than what they paid for it and assured taxpayers they are not paying the difference.

An SPS spokesman said: “We are not in the business of making a profit out of this.

“Some items will be sold at the same price as we buy them and with others we make a very slight profit but it’s really not a lot – it’s a very small margin.

“But I can categorically state that taxpayers are not paying any extra – these goods are obtained through the relevant procurement processes.”

A spokeswoman added: “We would never sell anything less than for what we paid for it.

“For example we may buy a product at 10p each but we then sell them for 12p each.

“In any event it is very difficult to do anything other than provide basic care, commence to stabilise any substance abuse issues and signpost them to services [as] remand prisoners are held in Scottish prisons for on average only 27 days.

“One of the key objectives of prison canteens is to ensure the pricing is appropriate to the funding accessible by prisoners.

“Prisoners are on a limited and reduced income during their time in custody.

“The items available to purchase from the canteen include toiletries and everyday items which allow prisoners to maintain personal hygiene.”