UK Revises Plan to Revamp Aging Prisons

LONDON — The United Kingdom government scrapped its controversial $4.8 billion plan to construct three 2,500-bed prisons and will instead build a series of 1,500-bed prisons to expand bed capacity in England and Wales.

The revised proposal calls for up to five smaller prisons that will deliver up to 7,500 beds — the same number of beds as the scrapped large-prison plan — at a cost of $5.1 billion.

The smaller facilities will be composed of individual sub-units housing a maximum of 750 inmates and will provide an environment that better supports the effective delivery of tailored treatment and programming designed to reduce recidivism, officials say.

The planned construction of new prisons forms the centerpiece of a comprehensive overhaul of the prison system to expand capacity, reduce overcrowding and update facilities.

The first of the new 1,500-bed prisons will be built on a site formerly owned by Ford Motor Co., in Barking, East London. The second new prison is planned for the site of a former state psychiatric hospital, near Colchester, Essex.

The government remains committed to expanding the existing capacity of the 135-facility prison system from approximately 84,000 beds to 96,000 beds by 2014, officials say. Since 1997, the number of beds throughout the prison system increased by about 24,000.

Up to 8,500 additional beds are being created under the existing expansion plan, which will also replace approximately 5,000 inefficient or substandard beds at existing facilities.

All new prisons will be built and managed by private sector firms under the government’s Private-Finance Initiative, according to a public value program announcement. The National Offender Management Service will administer an open facility management contract competition for at least seven existing prisons as the government attempts to increase operational efficiencies and reduce costs, officials say.

There are more than 20 prisons in England and Wales with 1,000 or more beds, including London’s 1,600-bed H.M.P. Wandsworth.

Unlike the 2,500-bed prison plan, the smaller facilities will be procured through open competition and tendered individually rather than through the Ministry of Justice’s 10-year prisons construction framework of consultants, contractors and suppliers used for prison construction projects since 2004.

Inmate population growth and future projections will determine whether the three remaining prisons will be constructed, officials say.