Labour has placed the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester - known as the Glasshouse - at the top of a list of "expensive luxuries" to be scrapped to release more money for the cash-strapped prison service.
The camp is home to 20 inmates at a cost of pounds 60,000 a year each - three times as expensive as a normal young offenders institution and more than five times as costly as Fettes, Tony Blair's former public school.
Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is convinced they are not effective in reducing levels of offending and can turn young inmates into hardened criminals.
Senior prison service officials who are operationally responsible for the camp, denounced it last week as a "political exercise" forced on them by Michael Howard. "It offends people's professionalism," said one. "Asking the Army to run prisons is like asking us to fight wars."
The camp, which opened in February and costs pounds 1.2m a year, was supposed to have catered for 32 offenders. Only inmates who were near the end of their sentence were eligible for selection. Sex offenders, drug users and absconders were excluded.The criteria were so strict that the prison service found it almost impossible to find suitable candidates.
Inmates at the glasshouse are required to get up at 6am and are occupied until 10pm with a strict regime, which includes military drill and strenuous physical exercise. But David Roddan, general secretary of the Prison Gover- nors' Association, said: "It is huge- ly expensive and cannot be defended even as an experiment."
But Labour will not immediately be scrapping the planned prison ship, moored at Portland harbour, in Dorset. Although concerns have been raised about safety standards, the current strain on prison accommodation means that the hulk's cell capacity is crucial.