10/07/2015 09:08 BST | Updated 10/07/2015 09:59 BST

Michael Gove Scraps Youth Mega Prison Project

Suzanne Plunkett/PA Wire
Justice Secretary Michael Gove before the State Opening of Parliament, in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London.

A proposed mega prison for teenagers is being scrapped on cost grounds, the Government confirmed today.

The 320-bed ‘Secure College’ was expected to hold about a quarter of the 1,300 children - with some as young as 12 - currently in custody in England and Wales.

The project, which would have cost £85million, drew criticism from prison reform campaigners and the NSPCC, with the Howard League and the Prison Reform Trust warning the college would become “a centre for violence and self-harm”.

Today, Justice Minister Andrew Selous confirmed the mega prison plan had been dropped.

In a written statement he said: “The youth custody population has fallen from 1,349 in January 2013 to 999 in April 2015, a fall of 26%. A Secure College could have been desirable with a larger population, but it would not be right to house one third of the entire youth offender population in one setting.

“It would also be a mistake to press ahead with such a development when resources are so tight.”

Secure colleges were first floated by Mr Grayling in 2013, and last year he fleshed out the plans to build a facility in Leicestershire.

The college would have allowed staff at the college to use force on youngsters, and drew comparisons with the ‘Borstal’ centres banned in the 1980s.

In a blog for The Huffington Post UK last year, Labour's Dan Jarvis described the plan as a "flawed, expensive and potentially dangerous idea."

Today, Mr Jarvis tweeted:

The u-turn was welcomed by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns said: “As Lord Ramsbotham and many other peers raised when these proposals were debated in the Lords, building a super-sized child prison and expecting it to reinvent custody with a dash of education was always misguided.

“The Ministry of Justice is absolutely right to point to the success in recent years of driving down the numbers of children in custody, making the notion of housing a third of all those left behind bars in one facility anachronistic at best.

“At a time of straitened finances, it is far better to invest in preventing crime and keeping children safe rather than throw good money after bad on a failed project which never commanded confidence from experts in the field.”

Despite the project being axed, the Government has already spent £5.6million on design work, site preparation and staff costs.

Labour also applauded the decision to stop the plan, with Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer calling it “a victory for common sense”.

“The Secure College was a flawed idea that should never have made it off the drawing board.

"Everyone agrees that more needs to be done to tackle youth re-offending, but Labour and criminal justice experts warned that this untested and potentially dangerous institution would do little to help with rehabilitation.

“Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on vanity projects, Ministers should now focus on improving the appalling conditions in our existing prison estate.”