Security giant G4S has lost its contract to run a prison and failed to win any further prison contracts it was bidding for, the Ministry of Justice has said.
Six contracts to run nine prisons, including eight currently run by the public sector, were put up for competition "to balance the need to increase efficiency" and fulfil the government's plans for a "rehabilitation revolution".
Contracts G4S hold for Coldingley prison in Surrey, Onley in Northamptonshire, and Durham jail have not been renewed.
The Wolds prison in East Yorkshire
However bidding will move to the final stage to run Northumberland prison and the South Yorkshire group of jails - Lindholme, Hatfield and Moorland - with contracts likely to be awarded next spring to the three remaining bidders, Sodexo, Serco and MTC/Amey.
G4S, which failed to provide enough guards for the London 2012 games, will stop running the Wolds prison in East Yorkshire and will return to the public sector from next year.
Wolds prison is a category C training prison holding up to 395 men and has been run by G4S since it opened in 1992.
Prison inspectors found the performance of the Wolds prison deteriorated in 2010, with concerns over "the availability of drugs, a lack of staff confidence in confronting poor behaviour, weaknesses in the promotion of diversity and limited work and training provision".
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "On the evidence of deteriorating conditions at the Wolds, Britain's first private jail, it looks like trusting G4S to run the prison was a risk too far for justice ministers.
"Now four other prisons will remain in the public service only by shouldering an almost impossible burden of cuts."
Reporting on its latest inspection in June, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick warned many cells "were too cramped, lacked sufficient furniture and had poorly screened toilets".
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "The cost of running our prisons is too high and must be reduced.
The MoJ hoped to save £450 million over the next six years by a number of changes, including putting services such as maintenance and resettlement services out to competition, the MoJ said.
"This is a challenge the public sector must rise to. The approach I am announcing today does not rule out further prison-by-prison competitions in the future."
A G4S spokeswoman said: "We look forward to discussing the contract award decision with the MoJ within the next few days to determine why we were unsuccessful."
G4S shares were down 5% after the announcement.
Only five of the nine sites put out to competition by the government will be transferred to the private sector. Yet Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform said "the principle of awarding lucrative contracts to private companies running prisons on the cheap remains unchallenged"
She called for details of how the bidding process is being decided to be made public and said: "something as important as taking away someone's freedom should only be done by the state, answerable to taxpayers, rather than by international private security firms, answerable only to their shareholders.
Her words were echoed by Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka, who called for any further prison sell-offs to be stopped, describing it as a "national scandal.
"It is morally reprehensible that companies are profiting from locking people up and we urgently need an independent review to look at the impact on our communities, staff and prisoners." he added.
The Prison Officers' Association (POA) said the move to privatise the jails was a "disgraceful decision".
"These decisions are based on a flawed ideology and not on cost and provision of services," a POA spokeswoman said.
She added: "Prison staff now face an anxious and uncertain future."