At least seven firms have been invited to bid on the project, including Saudi Oger, Saudi Binladin and the local Al-Rashid Trading & Contracting Company.

The centres will house prisoners, who will undertake manual labour and tasks designed to help them reintegrate into society, according to the Interior Ministry.

Each centre is expected to cost SR2bn to develop and will cover about 4 million square metres, with a built-up area of 300,000-350,000 sq m. Centres will be built in Riyadh, Jeddah, Medina, Taif, Baha, Dammam and Jouf.

Each site is expected to take two-and-half years to build, with contractors likely to bid for a limited number of packages, rather than all seven.

“We would be interested in maybe three packages,” says an executive at one contractor invited to bid.

The ministry has also issued tenders for a network of police stations and other buildings, which are due to be submitted by 1 November.

While the budget has not been revealed, the project is expected to cost several billion riyals.

The scheme involves the construction of police stations, civil defence buildings and intelligence offices throughout the kingdom.

It will also cover infrastructure work to link the buildings to the existing road network. “This is all over Saudi Arabia,” says one contractor. “It is very big and complicated.”

According to the UN Development Programme, Saudi Arabia has a prison population of 132 for every 100,000 people, ranking it 98 out of 172 countries globally.