Britain should shut down 30 rundown prisons and build 12 modern "hub prisons" with a capacity of up to 3,000 inmates each, according to a new report from the think tank Policy Exchange.
The study authored by a former prison governor suggests setting up a compound of housing units, with shared facilities located in a central hub, similar to U.S. super-prisons.
Policy Exchange sees significant savings from economies of scale, as many of the operational costs are fixed in nature. It also said the use of modern technology for supervision and back office administration could further help cut costs, by using biometric access and movement control, as well as self-service booking of visits and menu choices.
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"How can one prison cost £108,000 per place to run, when another establishment, performing exactly the same functions, costs just £26,000 per place?" the report asked.
The study said the prison estate in England has grown piecemeal and comprises purpose-built facilities from the age of the Victorian penitentiary, former military bases, country houses, poorly built facilities from the 1960s and 70s, as well as a number of recent additions.
As a result, some British prisoners serve their sentence in "damp Victorian dungeons."
"The right question for policymakers is not how to arbitrarily reduce the number of people going to prison, but rather, how to reduce the cost per place," the report said.
The study also stressed the imbalance between prison locations and geographical need, resulting in transporting prisoners with expensive escort contractors.
The charity Prison Reform Trust, however, said building big prison complexes was a bad idea.
"It would be a gigantic mistake to pour taxpayers' money down a super-sized, Big Brother prison building drain," Juliet Lyon, director of the Trust said.
"There is scope to close some outdated prisons and reinvest the money saved into community solutions, diverting money into mental healthcare, drug treatment and safe, effective alternatives to custody."
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The feasibility study estimates the construction cost of each new large prison to be around 300 million pounds ($460 million), so the program would require a capital of around 3.75 billion pounds ($5.7 billion).
Policy Exchange believes the super-prisons will lead to estimated savings of 600 million pounds per year ($910 million). Based on a 25-year repayment period for the investment, this would amount to 10 billion pounds ($15.2 billion) in savings.
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