The Home Office has been forced to postpone the starting date of the tough new-style institution at the Colchester Military Corrective Training Centre in Essex.
The Government had hoped to install 37 young offenders in the existing Armed Services' glasshouse last month, but this was delayed until the first week of October, and this deadline has now passed with no new date set.
Failure to open the new institution before the election would be an embarrassing blow for the Home Office. It is currently taking legal advice after concerns emerged about the legality of a member of the armed forces being in charge of civilian prisoners.
All jails are run by governors who have to be qualified as prison officers and have undergone specialist training. The Prison Service is worried that inmates who are injured while at the camp may be able to sue a military commander who has not been fully trained.
David Roddan, general secretary of the Prison Governors' Association, said: "We are in discussion with the Prison Service concerning the legality of the appointment of a military officer as a prison service governor without the normal training being administered. We await their reply."
Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, added: "The Home Office has clearly not thought through the legitimacy of turning a military corrective training centre into a civil jail. This political gesture is best abandoned."
Ann Widdecombe, the Prisons Minister, yesterday visited the first and only boot camp, Thorn Cross Young Offenders' Institution, near Warrington, Cheshire. She said: "You won't make a good citizen just by drilling him, but by giving him a combination of discipline and motivation and the necessary education and skills. These lads have got a real chance."