Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 12:51 UK

Charity makes bid to run prisons

A prison warden
The prisons would be built in Merseyside and London

A charity which campaigns for penal reform and works with offenders is bidding to run two new jails, the BBC has learned.

Nacro is preparing a joint bid with a private security firm, a construction company and a drugs charity.

The 600-bed prisons would be in Merseyside and in south-east London.

The move is unprecedented - although voluntary groups already run courses in prisons, none has attempted to jointly manage a prison before.

'Odd bedfellows'

The two new prisons - Belmarsh West, to be built next door to Belmarsh high security prison in south-east London, and Maghull in Merseyside - are due to be finished by 2010.

Nacro's bid to run them involves a partnership with a private firm, Group 4 Securicor, known as G4S.

The private sector has often faced criticism from penal reformers for its management of prisons.

The head of Nacro, Paul Cavadino, said that although his organisation and G4S could be regarded as "odd bedfellows" it made sense to work.

"If we're both involved in working together on the design, planning and regime of a new prison, it increases the chances that regime will be one which helps to reduce re-offending by resettling prisoners effectively," he said.

Nacro said even the design of a prison building could make a difference to the success of a regime - for example, how closely located the different teams involved were to each other.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said commercial discussions for the new prisons began at the end of October but the department would not be able to discuss progress until contracts were awarded.

The involvement of the voluntary sector in the provision of services for offenders was encouraged, he added.

Another consortium, also a mixture of the voluntary and private sectors, is preparing a separate bid.

Titan criticism

11 in the UK, first opened in 1992
House about 12% of inmates
Run by a director, the equivalent of a public sector governor
Must also have a controller who works to the Justice Secretary
Controller monitors the treatment of inmates

Nacro was established in 1966. It says about 50% of its activity concerns the resettlement of offenders, 45% crime prevention and 5% criminal justice reform.

It runs more than 70 projects inside prisons and in the community in England and Wales to help prisoners access accommodation, employment and benefits on release.

Last week the organisation joined a coalition warning Justice Secretary Jack Straw that proposals to build three 2,500-bed Titan jails would "squander" public money and leave Britain the "prisons capital of Europe".

Nacro said the plans would damage efforts to take criminals away from a life of crime and exacerbate mental health problems in jails.

There are currently 11 private prisons in the UK managed by companies including Serco, which also runs court transport services, and GSL, which built the GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham.

G4S already runs Parc prison and young offenders institution near Bridgend, south Wales, which opened in 1997.

Approximately 12% of the prison population, including about 25% of female inmates, are now held in contracted-out prisons.

Every private prison has a director who carries out a role similar to that of the governor in a public sector jail.

But by law, a private prison must also have a controller who is a government employee and works to the Justice Secretary.

The controller monitors the operation of the prison and the treatment of prisoners.

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