South China's Guangdong province on Wednesday announced the opening of China's first online shopping platform in prison at a province-wide conference on online shopping for prisoners.
In January, the Guangdong Prison Administrative Bureau singled out Conghua Prison as a pilot for online shopping. During the pilot period between January and April, prisoners made more than 13,000 orders, purchasing more than 400,000 items, without a single case of quality-related returns or other disputes.
At a ward building in the prison, each floor is equipped with online shopping terminals where prisoners can select from about 200 commodities in 68 categories, including daily necessities, school supplies, nonstaple foods, cigarettes and gifts.
The variety of goods offered represents a 60 per cent increase over the offline market in the past.
Prisoners log in by entering a password or using their fingerprint, the Guangzhou-based New Express reported.
On the platform, a 500 milliliter bottle of Coca-Cola sells for 2.5 yuan (S$0.5) and a pair of shoes costs 39 yuan ($6), the same as the market prices outside the prison.
Beside the terminals are refrigerators for prisoners to store cold beverages, with their names on the lids.
Nonstaple foods -- including milk, instant noodles, meat and Laoganma hot sauce -- as well as cigarettes are the most popular items.
A prisoner is allowed to shop online once a month, limited to 15 minutes each instance. To save time, prisoners can select from a printed shopping list in advance, quickening the pace of the online phase.
The average spending per month is 300 yuan per prisoner, with no significant increase compared to before.
In the past, prisoners had to handwrite a shopping list and give it to the officers, who would print it out and return it to the prisoner for confirmation, a prisoner surnamed Yuan told the newspaper.
Now, Yuan said, it is more convenient to place an order at the terminals.
Yuan added that it took as long as a month to get purchases in the past, while now it is shortened to a matter of several days.
Using the online platform, every ward will generate a gross order that gets forwarded to the prison, which will place the orders for all wards as a whole to the e-commerce platform.
"At first, I couldn't operate the platform, so I just avoided using it," said a 52-year-old prisoner surnamed Zhang who had never shopped online before. "However, with the help of the police and other prisoners, gradually I got familiar with it. This will help me better adapt to society later on, after I get out of prison."