Jail for children 10 times dearer than Eton

THE first prison for children is to open this week amid complaints that it will be more expensive than sending a child to public school.

Medway Secure Training Centre, in Kent, will hold 40 of the country's most dangerous tearaways between the ages of 12 to 14, but yesterday the Children's Society condemned it as a "no-hope" solution.

The cost of the centre has not been revealed, but the charity believes it will cost pounds 5,000 per child a week - 10 times the cost of Eton or Harrow and twice the price of a room at the Ritz.

The centres, to be run by private companies, will hold offenders under the controversial "secure training orders" brought in by the Conservative government. They were opposed by Labour in opposition as "colleges of crime", but shortly after taking office the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, announced he would be going ahead with the plans. It would be a waste of public money to cancel them, he said. But he has promised to replace the secure training orders with detention and training orders, which are expected to increase the emphasis on rehabilitation and care rather than punishment.

Ian Sparks, chief executive of the Children's Society, said the pounds 5,000 a week would be better spent providing more local authority secure accommodation.

STCs were brought in by the Michael Howard, former home secretary, in response to concern about young offenders. Prolific teenage burglars and car thieves, such as Ratboy, seemed to be running out of control and could not be jailed because they were too young. Before the Secure Training Orders were introduced, children under 15 could only be jailed for the most serious crimes like murder and manslaughter.