Children in Prison
Crime was on the increase alongn with populations, wealth, and poverty. The industrialization of England brought a great deal of success to many, but technology and populations grew much faster than regulations and management could keep up. All too often, the casualties of society’s problems are children. Many children found themsevles completely alone in the world for a variety of reasons and found themselves crushed under the wheels of Victorian justice.
- Some parents fell into addiciton (alcohol or drugs) and were useless to their children.
- Parents were often in the justice system themselves and were either imprisoned or transported.
- Mothers were seperated from their children to prevent negative influence from a criminal parent.
- Brothers and sisters were seperated to prevent what was thought to be a natural inclination toward incest among the poor.
- Many paupers’ children ended up in workhouses surrounded by individuals suffering from mental illness, those dying from illness, and weeping of broken mothers.
It is no surprise that many of the older children turned to a life of petty crime to try and survive. They had no sense of right and wrong except what the streets and elder criminals taught them. Some were taken in by “thief-trainers” like Fagin in Oliver Twist who fed and clothed them and taught them to be professional pickpockets.
Punishments were swift and harsh. In 1814, five children under the age of fourteen were hanged at the Old Bailey. One was a young man named William Potter who was hanged for ‘cutting down an orchard.’ Many other received months of hard labor for petty crimes. George Davey, age ten, was sentenced to a month’s hard labor for stealing two tame rabbits. Other found themselves in jail for stealing food and blankets. One eight year old young man identified by his sleeve number, No. 6, was asked by he was imprisoned, “for not moving on, Sir” was his answer. Sounds like Joe in Bleak House, only No. 6 didn’t even have Tom-all-Alone’s. No. 6 had no one and nothing.
While punishment was carried out promptly, trials were often delayed for weeks, and children (young girls and boys) sat in prison with the general population – a worthy group of characters I am sure. Conditions were deplorable and dangerous. Disease was rampant and abuse was common. Not until 1820 were children imprisoned in seperate facilities. By 1851, things were looking better. According to the census of that year, only twenty children under the age of ten were in British prisons; however, the numbers of older children (ten to fifteen) had rised. England still had work to do.