Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Lindy McDowell: Why are we giving budgie seed to prisoners?

Is budgie seed a human right? Among revelations this week about the spending habits of prisoners in local jails we learn that they’ve been flashing the cash in prison tuck shops on the likes of television Freeview boxes (£35.95) electric shavers (£58.45), green tea, protein drinks, guitar strings, fags, vitamins, sweets and, um, budgie seed.

Now, no one would surely begrudge the incarcerated a few home comforts.

If some yob who beat up a defenceless pensioner wants to spend his prison wages ( around £12) on something constructive like punch bag mitts (£17), who in these politically correct times would stand in his way?

Well, Stormont MLA Thomas Burns, for one.

Mr Burns is not exactly impressed with the £6million odd quid which has been spent in local prison tuck shops over the past five years.

Or with the variety of items this vast sum has been spent upon.

“I don’t expect prisoners to be fed bread and water,” he tells one reporter, “but the idea that convicts are sitting in their cells watching Sky Movies on their LCD TVs whilst scoffing Mars bars and tubes of Pringles will anger most law abiding people..”

You can almost hear the temper rising in the SDLP man as he warms to his theme

“.and after a demanding evening gaming on their Playstation they can have a nice facial scrub, relax in a herbal bath and give their skin a good moisturising with their supply of Nivea.”

The goods which are currently on sale at Northern Ireland’s three prisons — Hydebank, Magilligan and Maghaberry — range from confectionery, food and tobacco to electrical gadgets including television sets. (With built-in DVD, £141.)

As Mr Burns has put it, these so-called tuck shops appear to do a wider range than Tesco Express.

Prisoners can use their own cash as well as the “wages” some are allowed to earn inside.

Most of us would have assumed that the odd wee luxury like sweets and ciggies would have been about the height of goods on offer in the jail shops.

Not a selection of cosmetics and gadgetry to rival Argos.

With the rest of the populace being forced into tightening their belts, could you blame the victims of crime for feeling angry that what used to be called porridge has now apparently been replaced by organic granola with pomegranate?

And that the soft soaping of convicts now includes the option of a Radox Herbal Bath (£1.71)

Although perhaps not for much longer

New proposals from David Ford’s Justice Department could see the wages of criminals confiscated in future to help compensate their victims.

Which may mean a clampdown on the availability of budgie seed.

And it’s this budgie seed bit that truly baffles me.

What the hell do they do with budgie seed in prisons? Grow the stuff?

Or do they actually get to keep budgies like the Bird Man of Alcatraz?

(Remember those stories about the well-known loyalist who used to keep his dog with him in prison? Can they still do that?)

Maybe they give the seed — as a sort of veiled threat — to fellow inmates they suspect have been singing to the authorities.

Put it like this.

If you were the seed recipient, you’d certainly get the hint if it was being handed over by the big bloke who’s on the Protein Drink Mix (£12)

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