The move is designed to head off stinging criticism in an unpublished inquiry report into jail security. The Independent has learnt that the inquiry into prison security - following the IRA escape at Whitemoor and the subsequent Parkhurst debacle late last year - will be highly critical of the present system of holding high-risk, sophisticated and psychopathic criminals in prisons dotted around the system.
The conclusions of the inquiry by Sir John Learmont, the former Quartermaster General, due to be published later this month, suggest the most cost- effective way of ensuring public safety is the provision of one or two American-style super-secure prisons. But aware of the controversy surrounding private prisons and lapses of security, the Home Secretary intends the super maximum "supermax" jail to be state-run.
Officials are confident the Cabinet would approve plans for the jail to be built by the private sector but their main concern is bad publicity. Home Office documents, seen by the Independent, say: "Announcing private sector involvement in this prison
The papers reveal that Mr Howard has all but failed to secure public funding for a hi-tech super-jail. Officials are urgently seeking approval for private finance so that, when Sir John's report is published, the Home Secretary can announce that plans are underway. There are no plans to house women or young offenders in the supermax.
Creating a supermax prison would end a 30-year-old policy of moving convicted violent and control-risk prisoners regularly between six jails - Parkhurst, Whitemoor, Full Sutton, Long Lartin, Frankland and Belmarsh.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers said last night: "The debate has been going on for 30 years and during that time the case for the supermax has not been proved. The main advantage of high security is far outweighed by the difficulties for family visits, the stigmatisation, and the high running and building costs."
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