Monday, 4 April 2011

Young offenders

Juvenile crime was a concern before the beginning of the nineteenth century but a number of historians have argued that the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century was pivotal in the changes that occurred in the treatment of juvenile criminals. Some historians argue that this represented an ‘invention’ of juvenile crime but there was not so much an ‘invention’ as a ‘reconceptualisation’ of the juvenile offender during the nineteenth century.[1] Farmers whose apples had been taken may have complained to the children’s parents. The local constable might give them a severe telling off or a clip on the ear. Only the most difficult and persistent child criminals found themselves in court and when they did, they were punished like adults. Children were put in prisons, transported and even hanged. In 1880, there were 6,500 children under 16 in adult prisons, of whom 900 were under 12.[2]

From the late 1810s, commentators were increasingly concerned by juvenile crime and this led to a convergence in policy by public and voluntary sectors. The ideologies of private initiatives set up to deal with juvenile crimes, such as the Marine Society in 1756, the Philanthropic Society in 1788, the Refuge for the Destitute in 1804, not exclusively for juveniles but strongly involved with the rescue and reform of the young and private individuals such as Mary Carpenter, Sydney Turner and Matthew Davenport Hill increasingly coincided with parliamentary penal policy. This fusion in thinking led individuals involved in the voluntary sector became involved in the public machinery of juvenile justice providing evidence to parliamentary committees and commissions.

The publication of the Report of the Committee for Investigating the Alarming Increases of Juvenile Crime in the Metropolis in 1816 was of especial importance. Although many of its arguments having already been presented in the pamphlets of the Philanthropic Society the report seems to have sparked a parliamentary debate about such crime. The Committee that produced it contained a number of Quaker social reformers who were important in the broader history of criminal justice. Thomas Fowell Buxton, an evangelical Whig politician, campaigned for an end to capital punishment in all cases but those of murder. Peter Bedford, the Spitalfields philanthropist was well-known for his work among the deprived silk workers of that area. Samuel Hoare, Quaker banker was Chairman of the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline and brother-in-law of Elizabeth Fry and William Crawford, from 1835 one of the first Inspector Generals of Prisons. Quakers put criminals, and particularly women and child criminals, at the heart of political debate promoting a more child-centred approach to juvenile criminals and their role in developing social and domestic policy was pivotal.

Crime 24

The focus for juvenile crime lay in London and the parliamentary debate was coloured by an understanding of metropolitan delinquency. Contemporary reports commented on the swarms of ragged children infesting the metropolis and investigations by social and penal reformers were heavily influenced by a hard-core of juvenile offenders. People’s awareness of juvenile crime was raised by the publication of Oliver Twist in 1837. Dickens shocked people with his description of the Artful Dodger and Fagin’s trained gang of metropolitan pickpockets. His story may have been fiction but it was successful in getting people thinking about child crime and how to deal with it. Discussion of juvenile offenders occurred in other parts of the country but it was rarely as influential as the metropolitan perspective. The factory was increasingly viewed as a site of disorder and delinquency and the work of the Reverend John Clay with prisoners in Preston in the late 1830s and 1840s was widely regarded. [3]

By the 1860s, two alternative views of the nature of juvenile offenders had evolved. The more influential, apparent in the work on delinquents by both Henry Mayhew and John Binny, saw the juvenile criminal as exclusively male.[4] The female role was peripheral and then largely as a source of sexual corruption. Like the Dodger he often had the manner of a small adult, a boy-man, a combination of innocence and experience, of immaturity and mature masculinity that seems to have both disturbed and attracted reformers and investigators. However, there was also an understanding that children were not just miniature adults but developing people who were influenced by their environment. Reformers such as Mary Carpenter, developing the child-centred attitudes of the Friends, began to ask important questions.[5] How and when does a child know what is right and wrong? What should be done about the fact that criminals and deprived backgrounds produced more child criminals?[6] Children were likely to become criminals by sending them to an adult prison.[7] What alternatives should there be?

The result was the gradual development of the juvenile justice system. Though early modern policy makers and welfare practitioners had not been unaware of the specific needs of children, separate institutions for youngsters, both at the level of trial and punishment, were an innovation of the nineteenth century. In 1838, a positive, but short-lived, step was taken of separating juvenile offenders when the former military prison on the Isle of Wight at Parkhurst was opened with a reformatory regime for convicts under eighteen prior to their transportation. The Juvenile Offenders Act of 1847 allowed children under the age of fourteen to be tried summarily before two magistrates, thus making the process of trial for children quicker and removing it from the public glare of the higher courts and the age limit was raised to sixteen in 1850. Acts in 1855, 1879 and 1899 extended summary provision for the young with the result that by 1899; all offences committed by children and young people could be dealt with summarily by magistrates, with the exception of murder charges. In 1853, a Select Committee on Criminal and Destitute Children recommended a degree of state assistance for reformatory schools. The result, between 1854 and 1857, was a series of Reformatory and Industrial School Acts that replaced prison with specific juvenile institutions. The Youthful Offenders Act 1854 provided for persons less than sixteen years to be sent to such schools for from two to five years following two weeks in a prison (perhaps as a shock). These reform schools were very tough but the clear intention was to separate the child from his or her bad home environment. In 1857, legislation sanctioned the sending to industrial schools of children between the ages of seven and fourteen who had been convicted of vagrancy. The perceived decline in juvenile crime after 1860 was often attributed to the reformatories and industrial schools by reformers.[8]

By the late-nineteenth century the new juvenile justice system was firmly in place. Various acts since 1850 had extended summary powers, and there were increasing calls for a separate juvenile court in which to process young delinquents. The first children’s court was set up in Birmingham in April 1905, strongly influenced by the model of the Illinois Juvenile Court that had been established in America in 1899. Transportation had ended by 1867, though emigration of delinquent children continued. A number of Reformatory and Industrial Schools developed from the acts of the 1850s, a process completed by the Education Act of 1876, which put into place industrial day schools and truant schools. In 1902, an experimental school to try to reform repeating offenders aged 15-21 was started at Borstal in Kent. It was run like a public school, with lots of sport and residential houses. The plan for more such schools, called Borstals, was extended in 1908 and for a time they were very successful.

By the 1860s, the state was prepared to intervene directly in the lives of children. The Factory Acts removed children from some workplaces and introduced protections in others; the Education Act 1870 made elementary schooling compulsory. The Children’s Charter of 1889, driven through Parliament by the NSPCC criminalised cruelty to children and enabled the state to intervene in family life. The 1908 Children’s Act was an important move in the separate treatment of children. It stopped children under 14 being sent to prisons and created special Juvenile courts to hear cases. After 1908, a child under seven was not held liable for his actions. This was raised to eight in 1933 and ten in 1963. In 1932, reformatory schools were replaced by Approved Schools for offenders under 15. A total of 86 boys’ schools and 35 girls’ schools were set up. As Radzinowitz and Hood pointed out, by the eve of the First World War, ‘there was a network of 208 schools: 43 reformatories, 132 industrial schools, 21 day industrial schools and 12 truant schools’.[9]

The juvenile offender was not an invention of the nineteenth century. However, it is clear that in this period a reconceptualisation of youth crime, and various developments in social policy, as well as the activities of certain individuals, resulted in a new language of youthful delinquency. By the late-nineteenth century, through a combination of state legislation and institutional projects, voluntary initiatives and cultural concepts culled from a particular response to, and understanding of, such crime, the juvenile offender had become a central figure, fully entrenched in the British justice system.


[1] Shore, Heather, Artful dodgers: youth and crime in early nineteenth-century London, (Royal Historical Society), 1999, Duckworth, Jeannie, Fagin’s Children: Criminal Children in Victorian England, (Hambledon), 2002 and Abbott, Jane, ‘The press and the public visibility of nineteenth-century criminal children’, in ibid, Rowbotham, Judith and Stevenson, Kim, (eds.), Criminal conversations: Victorian crimes, social panic, and moral outrage, pp. 23-39

[2] See, King, Peter and Noel, Joan, ‘The origins of “the problem of juvenile delinquency”: the growth of juvenile prosecutions in London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries’, Criminal Justice History, Vol. 14, (1993), pp. 17-41, King, Peter, ‘The Rise of Juvenile Delinquency in England, 1780-1840: Changing Patterns of Perception and Persecution’, Past and Present, Vol. 160, (1998), pp. 116-166 and Stack, John A., ‘Children, urbanization and the chances of imprisonment in mid Victorian England’, Criminal Justice History, Vol. 13, (1992), pp. 113-139.

[3] Clay, John, ‘Annual Report of the Rev. John Clay, Chaplain to the Preston House of Correction, Presented to the Visiting Justices at the October Sessions, 1838’, Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol. 1, (1839), pp. 84-113. See also, DeLacy, Margaret, Prison reform in Lancashire, 1700-1850: a study in local administration, (Manchester University Press), 1986, pp. 205-224 for discussion of Clay and the separate system.

[4] Ibid, Henry Mayhew and Binny, John, The criminal prisons of London, and scenes of prison life, pp. 376-397.

[5] Carpenter, Mary, Juvenile delinquents: their condition and treatment, (W. & F.G. Cash), 1856, pp. 15-49. She also included a valuable discussion of girls, pp. 81-117.

[6] Ibid, Carpenter, Mary, Juvenile delinquents: their condition and treatment, pp. 119-160.

[7] Ibid, Carpenter, Mary, Juvenile delinquents: their condition and treatment, pp. 161-205.

[8] It is unlikely that this was the only cause of decline and taking the country as a whole there was no common sentencing policy with regard to juveniles. The majority of convicted juveniles continued to be sent to ordinary gaols. See, Shore, Heather, ‘Punishment, Reformation, or Welfare: Responses to ‘The Problem’ of Juvenile Crime in Victorian and Edwardian Britain’, in Johnston, Helen, (ed.), Punishment and control in historical perspective, (Palgrave), 2008, pp. 158-176.

[9] Radzinowicz, Leon and Hood, Roger, The Emergence of Penal Policy in Victorian and Edwardian England, (Oxford University Press), 1990, pp. 618-620.

No comments: