Hello, you’re speaking to Prisoner No. 368798 O’Reilly…how can I help you, madam?

Scene #1 / Act #1… Action!

It’s the dead of night. A short, squat man, wearing a black mask and hooped top, carrying a jemmy and a bag marked ‘Swag’, is suddenly accosted by a policeman on an ill-lit back street.

Police officer (examing contents of bag): ‘’Ello, ‘ello, what have we got here, then? All right, chummy, you’re nicked.’

Burglar (parking said bag on the floor and holding up his hands): ‘Okay, guv, it’s a fair cop – yer got me bang ter rights.’

Police officer: ‘Hey, hang on a minute…do I detect a slight Cockney or, for that matter Scouse, Brummie, Geordie, Manc, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, regional accent?’

Burglar: ‘Dead bleedin’ right, guv. I’m from ‘Ackney Wick (a.k.a. Hackney Wick).’

Police officer (smiling): ‘Fan-bloody-tastic! We’ve been lookin’ for someone from your neck of the woods for ages. They’ve been crying out for Cockney speakers down at Parkhurst Prison, on the Isle of Wight.’

Burglar: ‘Bloomin’ Parkhurst! Wots wrong wi’ me usual nicks, like Pentonville or Wandsworth or even Brixton? The screws knows me dahn there. I’m a regular.’

Police officer: ‘Not so lucky, this time, eh, chummy? It’ll be Parkhurst for you with that accent. By the way, you any good with computers?’

End of scene: Fade out, as the crestfallen cracksman is led off, handcuffed to the constable.

MANCHESTER PRISON: Or, perhaps, to be shortly retitled H.M.P. call centre Strangeways?

It’s too early for an April Fools Day gag, but the above conversation – ficticious as it is – might not be quite so fanciful as some imagine.

Because the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is seriously considering a proposal by marketing consultants, UrbanDate Ltd, to set up call centres in British prisons, manned by inmates with popular regional accents.

This, it’s claimed, will not simply minimise ‘off-shoring’ – whereby banks, large stores and insurance companies move their call centres to India, for instance – but will eradicate any conversational misunderstandings between customers and call centre agents, with non-British twangs.

Apparently, the scheme has been ‘trialed’ – sorry, no pun intended –  at Prescoed Prison, near Usk in Monmouthshire, where day-release prisoners are being paid £15 a day to work in a call centre, selling solar panels and home insulation to the public for a local company. Naturally, the cons and customers are mostly named Dai, Taffy, Blodwyn or Myfanwy, so their is no dialectical confusion.

It is certainly a far cry from cons sewing mailbags, especially since emailing has caused a sizable drop in postal letters, and I’m sure the lags will find the work challenging, interesting and rewarding.

Meanwhile, perish the thought that some canny prisoners might be surreptitiously jotting down bank clients’ account numbers, passcodes, mothers’ maiden names and other personal data for future use after their release dates.

Or, perhaps nobody at the MoJ has rumbled that?


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