Although not-for-profit organisations are in the race for the CRCs, the bidding experience of the private contractors makes them overwhelming favourites to win the contracts.
Their records are under fire from unions and the Labour Party; Sodexo, for example, the world's 20th biggest employer, is bidding for around half the contracts. It was reported earlier this week that concerns have been raised over the French group's suitability for probation deals, due to problems with a contract managing Northumberland prison – there was a riot in March when more than 50 inmates took over an entire wing.
Sodexo is also in the running for the Northumbria package of work, which means it could end up running both probation services and the jail there. Industry insiders are concerned similar situations could crop up across the country, opening up prospects of conflicts of interest and effective monopolies.
A Justice minister says there are "safeguards and protections" but admits no discussions have taken place.
Elsewhere, Capita is the favourite for the lucrative London contract, but the MoJ fined the FTSE 100 group nearly £54,000 from January 2012 to March 2014 for failing to supply interpreters on a language services deal. The Geo Group and Amey are chasing a number of CRCs but, working together, they have been fined £645,000 in performance penalties on three prison escort and custody contracts.
The CRC contracts will typically last 10 years. In April, the shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan wrote to the MoJ's permanent secretary, Ursula Brennan, demanding assurances that the contracts contain "suitable break clauses or other opportunities for them to be terminated" by a future government "without the taxpayer being faced with huge financial penalties".
In a recent reply, Dame Ursula said that the final terms were still "subject to negotiation", but hinted strongly that triggering any break clauses would prove hugely expensive.
"Standard procurement practice confirms that seeking to provide for voluntary termination at little or no cost to the department would drive significant risk pricing from bidders," she stated. "I believe the voluntary termination clauses we propose will represent a reasonable and balanced position for the MoJ."
Mr Khan is furious: "I don't want the next Labour government lumbered with £8bn-worth of failing contracts we're unable to end without the taxpayer being even more ripped off."