Prison or Eton: which costs more?

7 June 2018
What was claimed

It’s significantly more expensive to send a child to prison than it is to send them to Eton.

Our verdict

Correct. In 2016/17 the average annual price per place for children in custody ranged from £76,000 to £210,000. The full annual fee to send a child to Eton in 2018/19 is just over £40,000.

“It’s significantly more expensive to send a kid to prison than it is to send them to Eton.”

Akala, 23 May 2018

This is a claim that has been made a number of times over the last 20 years in various forms.

There are many factors that make secure custody facilities for young people very different from Eton, which we haven’t gone into here. But it is correct that, just examining cost per place, secure custody is more expensive than Eton on average.

Depending on the type of custody accommodation, the annual price per place for a child ranges from £76,000 to £210,000 in England and Wales, while the full annual fee for Eton College is just over £40,000 a year.

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All types of custody for children cost more than Eton’s fees

There are three different types of custody for people under 18: secure children’s homes, secure training centres, and young offender institutions.

The average cost per place in a secure children’s home in England and Wales was around £210,000 a year in 2016/17, for a place in a secure training centre it was about £160,000, and in an under-18 young offender institution it was around £76,000. The Youth Justice Board told us these are the most up to date figures available.

These figures are an average—some places will cost more or less depending on the type of accommodation and the young person involved. The Ministry of Justice says that “services commissioned in secure residential accommodation are done so on the basis of meeting the individual needs of the young people accommodated there”.

These prices don’t include the costs of transporting sentenced young people, for example, between the court and a young offender’s institution. They do cover Ministry of Justice funding for education in young offender institutions.

Each place in a secure custody facility isn’t necessarily occupied by the same young person for a year. In 2016/17 the majority of “custodial episodes” which came to an end did so within three months and 8% had lasted more than a year.

There are three main types of custody for young people

Secure children’s homes are mostly council-run and provide children with teaching or training on site. They tend to be for children between 10 and 14 years old, and can also take on vulnerable children subject to a welfare placement, not just those who are sentenced or remanded in custody.

They house between five and 36 young people and have high staff to young person ratios. Figures from 2016 show that there was one staff member for every two young people in secure children’s homes.

Secure training centres are run by private companies, offer education and training and house 50 to 80 people, split into units of five to eight. They provide for children who are between 12 and 17, and according to the Ministry of Justice are “more motivated to attend school, or have risk factors which would make a placement in a [young offender institution] inappropriate.”

Young offender institutions are for people aged 15 to 21, although those under 18 are held in separate buildings. They are run by the prison service and private companies, and are larger than the other two types of children’s custody, housing between 60 and 400 people, split into wings of 30 to 60. They also have a lower ratio of staff to young people. Figures from 2016 show that there was one staff member for every ten young people in young offender institutions.

The cost of Eton College

The annual cost of sending a child to Eton College is £40,700 in 2018/19, without bursaries or scholarships. This includes things like food, boarding and education materials for its pupils, who join aged 13. There are also extra charges for things like music lessons and sports club membership. Students aren’t at Eton for the entire year—the length of the school’s three terms mean students are in school for around eight months per year.

The school says 21% of students in 2015/16 were on means tested bursaries, averaging a 66% reduction in fees. It also says in 2016/17, 73 pupils received full fee remission.

The full fees price isn’t necessarily the same as the actual cost of maintaining a child at Eton. The school has other sources of income aside from fees, such as grants, investments and trading income, as well as costs not directly related to the education and care of its current pupils.

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