PFI prisons are considered a success story, and perhaps courthouses too, but police stations often fail to do justice to their purpose. Martin Building examines the government's spending plans for law and order
The government's pledge to tackle crime extends to more than talking tough on yob culture. Millions of pounds have been devoted to building prisons, law courts and police stations – all of which are being procured through PFI routes – and refurbishing existing ones.

Servicing the prisons
A capital budget of some £120m a year has been allocated by the Prison Service to maintain, refurbish England and Wales' 130 existing prisons. Since 1992, all new prisons have been built using the PFI. Eight have been completed, and 25-year contracts to finance, build, operate and manage another two at Peterborough and Ashford are due to be awarded in the next month.

The prison development programme is driven by a need to upgrade existing facilities and reduce overcrowding. A priority is to reduce opportunities for prisoners to injure themselves by introducing built-in fittings without sharp corners or hooks.

Prisons are widely regarded as the public service sector in which PFIs have been the most successful. Independent audits indicate that private prisons provide best value: the Prison Service and PFI bidders appreciate rapid development programmes that can deliver a working prison in four years; the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment finds the designs acceptable; and even the Howard League for Penal Reform reports that prisoners in PFI prisons are treated with more courtesy and respect than in traditional prisons. One of the reasons for this success is that all PFI prisons are commissioned by an expert, centralised department in the Prison Service and the system is not afflicted by split responsibilities, as all services within a prison are provided by the PFI consortium.

Prison PFIs attract specialist companies with security expertise including Serco, Securicor, UKDS and Group 4. Contractor Interserve (formerly Tilbury Douglas) forms part of the UKDS consortium.

Courts on trial
The government is committed to speeding up and improving the service provided by courts. The policy involves building about 30 courthouses over the next three years and refurbishing existing ones for crown, magistrates and county or civil court services.

The development programme is partly being driven by the introduction of IT to improve court logistics and enable evidence to be presented on screen. The Lord Chancellor's Department has earmarked £133m to modernise existing crown and civil courts over three years to 2004.

The Howard League for penal reform says that prisoners in PFI prisons are often treated better

The PFI route will be followed for most new developments and some £410m of PFI credits have been awarded to the Lord Chancellor's Department for the period between 1997 and 2004. In Belfast, Manchester and London, private developer schemes in which the developer prelets a commercial building to the court service, are to be used for "civil justice centres" – the informal hearing rooms that are beginning to replace traditional county courts.

The UK's first PFI courthouse, located in Belfast, is due for completion by the end of the year. The £25m courthouse is also the first to combine crown, magistrates and civil courtrooms in one complex. It was built by a consortium comprising Jarvis, two Northern Irish contractors – Karl Construction and Northern Construction – with the Hurd Rolland Partnership as architect. In England, the Lord Chancellor's Department is planning 13 PFI magistrates' courthouses, and has already awarded 25-year contracts to consortiums including HBG in Derby and Carillion in Manchester.

To improve the design of private developer schemes, the Lord Chancellor's Department now plans to introduce a system of paying honorariums to consultants for initial designs. Chief architect Paul Monaghan and CABE commissioner Ian Ritchie have been appointed as design champions.

Policing the nicks
As part of the government's campaign to tackle crime and strengthen communities, police spending is being raised to record levels. The Home Office's capital budget has jumped from £573m last year to £857m this year, and will increase again next year to £967m. The 43 police authorities in England and Wales put in bids to the Home Office for capital allocations to cover equipment, IT, vehicle fleets and building works, and can add their own capital receipts. But for new-build headquarters buildings and police stations to house the expanded police force, PFI schemes "are realistically the only way they will get the money", according to the Association of Police Authorities.

However, the track record of police PFIs is not promising. CABE is dismayed at poor designs, in which bulky police buildings turn their backs on the town centre locations they occupy. Unlike PFI prisons and courthouses, PFI police accommodation is commissioned independently by each police authority with no access to central expertise and no champion appointed by CABE.

Law and order: Key aims

All new prisons, law courts and police accommodation to be developed through the PFI

£120m a year for three years devoted to refurbishing and maintaining the 130 prisons in England and Wales