Posts Tagged ‘teenage vagrants’

“Boys Break Away from Elgin Jail; Make Dash for Liberty When Taken Out To Work; Hide In Woods,” Toronto Globe. May 30, 1919. Page 03.

“St. Thomas, May 29. – A daring escape from the Elgin County jail was effected this evening by Harry Froome and John Munshone, two youthful prisoners.  the boys took French leave of Turnkey Mills as he was taking them out to work on the Court House lawn.  Turnkey Mills turned to bring out a third prisoner and as he did so Froome and Munshone bolted down the road and over into the Mill Creek ravine that adjoins the county buildings.  A sarching [sic.] party was immediately instituted, but up until a late hour this evening the boys had not been apprehended.  It is believed that they are hidung in the woods in the ravine.

Froome is a local youth who was convicted Wednesday of burglarizing a cigar store, and sentenced to two years in the Reformatory.  Munshone comes from Harrisburg, Pa., and was serving a month’s sentence on conviction of gaining entry into a bonded railway car.  He was the youth who fell asleep in the sugar car on the Pere Marquette Railway in Buffalo and was locked in by the unsuspecting car checker.  He spent two and one-half days in the car before he reached this city and was captured.

A negro prisoner at the jail told the guards after the boys’ escape that he had heard them plotting Wednesday evening but had refused to accompany them on their bid for freedom.”

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“Despite the attractiveness of a proposal by which boys were
to be provided with a prison at one-seventh of the capital cost of the new one
then being constructed at Millwall, nothing came of the plan. The treatment of
the juvenile offender remained virtually the same as that of a man. The only
concessions were the setting aside of a hulk from 1823 to 1844, and the
building of Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight in 1837. Boys found fit
enough to withstand the rigours of convict life in Australia came here for two
years before setting out on the next stage of their sentence. It was not until
1847 that the Juvenile Offenders Act offered the first possibility of a
differential treatment of juveniles. Limited to those under the age of 14, it
allowed magistrates to try offenders for simple larceny summarily instead of
having to remand them in prison for trial at some later date at assize or
quarter sessions. As alternatives to imprisonment, magistrates could order a
fine, not exceeding £3, or a whipping.

A growing awareness of, or increasing intolerance of,
disorderly behaviour amongst the young can be traced back to at least the last
quarter of the eighteenth century. However, Robert Raikes’ rule ‘clean faces,
clean hands, and hair combed’ must have excluded the very children he hoped to
influence. Similarly the New Poor Law, limited to succouring the children of
outdoor and indoor paupers together with those who were either orphaned or
deserted, failed to reach many of the destitute living by their wits. Although
the Ragged Schools, refuges, and industrial schools set up by voluntary effort
in the 1840s supplemented the work of the Poor Law Guardians, there remained a
large enough indeterminate number of children, living near-criminal lives, to
cause considerable concern.

Sheer numbers provide part of the explanation. The
under-twenty cohort had grown from 6,981,068 in 1821 to 14,422,801 thirty years
later and had become increasingly concentrated in an urbanizing society. At the
same time those who wished to confirm their general impression of growing
lawlessness among the young could do so by turning to the statistical evidence
of the commital returns available from 1834 onwards. The publication of details
of the age, sex, and degree of instruction of offenders made possible the
‘discovery’ of the juvenile offender as a social problem. Thus contemporaries
found ‘juveniles “aged 15 and under 20”, form not quite one-tenth of
the population, but are guilty of nearly one-fourth of its crime’. At the same
time criminal statistics showed an apparent rise in crime from under 5000
indictable commitals to trial a year in the quinquennium 1806-10, to 20,000 and
over by the 1840s.10 Legislation passed in 1829,1835,1839 and 1856 established
police forces over much of the country. During the same period the repeal of
more than 190 acts imposing capital punishment for a variety of offences,
together with administrative reforms made prosecution easier, less expensive,
and less serious in its consequences for the defendant. Such considerations,
together with a growing realization that the police were the allies of the
propertied classes, and not agents of political repression, encouraged the
public to report offences and hand over malefactors to the state judicial
process rather than take the law into their own hands. With the publication of
studies of urban conditions such as those of J. P. Kay and W. B. Neale on
Manchester, the hereditary criminal and juvenile delinquent, destined to become
a lifelong offender, jostled with the hereditary pauper as the bogey of the
middle classes, a climate of opinion that Charles Dickens exploited in Oliver Twist (1838).

The practice of imprisoning children was attacked both for
its inhumanity and its ineffectiveness. Unreformed prisons corrupted the young
by bringing them into association with older offenders who taught them the ways
of the criminal world. Reorganized prisons, where children could spend long
periods in solitary confinement, were attacked for their inhumanity. Common to
both these charges was the belief that with committal to prison a young person
lost his fear of incarceration and that it, with the workhouse, would become
his way of life. The high cost of imprisonment provided a further incentive for
seeking a cheaper alternative. One estimate put the total cost to the country
of a juvenile prisoner at £63. Os. Od. a year, if one allowed for the upkeep of
the judiciary and constabulary. Residence at Parkhurst cost £43.10s. 5d. a year
alone. In contrast a boy could be accommodated at Mettrai for £42 a year, at
Stretton for £31, while a mere £18 sufficed for his upkeep in an industrial
school. The total cost of supporting the pauper, his near brothers the vagrants
and thieves through the poor rate, charitable funds, together with the
maintenance of the necessary judicial apparatus, was put by one essayist at
£20,000,000 a year, nearly 5% of the estimated national income.

Thus the reformatory held out the lure of being cheaper and
more cost-effective than the prison. It also attracted the support of those who
saw the young offender as the victim of circumstance rather than as someone who
was inherently vicious:

There is no vicious child, as experience daily proves, who
is prematurely wicked, that might not, under a well directed and religiously
conducted system, still grow up an honest and industrious citizen. He was not
born a vagrant; he was not born a thief. Our neglect made him a delinquent; our
pernicious interference hardened him for the gallows, the hulk, or Botany Bay.

Such a view was essentially optimistic, for it implied that
if only the right kind of education and environment could be found, such
children would become useful citizens. However, the fact remained that some
children had committed either petty or major criminal acts. Hence the
Reformatory Schools Act, more correctly known as the Juvenile Offenders Act,
compromised between those who saw the child as the victim of circumstance and
society’s neglect and those who saw him as part of the ‘scum of the populace,
fit only to be swept as vermin from the face of the earth’. So the offender had
to spend a preliminary period in prison prior to admission to a reformatory.
Imprisonment did not cease to be a mandatory preliminary to detention in a
reformatory until 1893; six years later it was abolished altogether. Much of
the opposition to these changes came from the value school managers put on the
preliminary period of imprisonment, usually mainly in solitary confinement, as
a means of breaking the will of their future charges. Imprisonment provided
them with subdued and easily malleable charges who found their new place of
detention preferable to their old. It also gave the police time to find
reformatories prepared to take the offender. If, because all reformatories were
private institutions, they failed in this there was no alternative but to let
the child go.

In contrast to the reformatory child who, after
imprisonment, had a criminal record, the vagrant child brought before a
magistrate under the Industrial Schools’ Act, 1857, did not become a criminal,
although vagrancy was an offence for which an adult could receive six months’
imprisonment on his third conviction. Yet a child of seven could be confined to
an industrial school until the age of fifteen. This, it was urged, was an act
of kindness for it rescued him from the street, that preparatory school of the
criminal, and gave him shelter and education. In 1861 the Newcastle Report
found the Act too limited in scope and in danger of becoming a dead letter for
no more than 171 children, 100 from the city of Newcastle alone, had been sent
to industrial schools the previous year. It endorsed the view of Sydney Turner,
the inspector of reformatories, that there were hundreds of children whom
compulsory powers of detention and compulsory attendance at a ragged or
industrial school would save from sinking into the criminal classes thereby
qualifying for admission into the more costly reformatory.

Legislation of the next two decades gave the industrial
schools a considerably enlarged clientele that encompassed social problems
ranging from the child guilty of some minor offence to one guilty of none but
deemed to be in need of care and protection. Thus a two- or three-year-old
could find himself in the same institution as, and at the mercy of, much older
children sent by their parents or workhouse officials as uncontrollable, or
those picked up as beggars or as destitute. Others were there because they
consorted with thieves or prostitutes, “or had mothers serving a second
prison sentence. Yet another group had been sent there for truancy.

Yet the regime for all these children corresponded closely
to that of a reformatory school, despite the earlier wish of some that the
industrial school should be a less rigorous alternative. In common with the
workhouse child, inmates underwent a disciplined and oppressive routine of hard
work, severe punishment, austere living conditions, and a spartan diet to eradicate
the alleged defects of their characters, the evil influence of their previous
environment, and the sins of their fathers. Within the constraints of the
institution the child conformed, if only to come to terms with authority.
Outward conformity, it was hoped, bred inward a conversion which would guide
the inmate’s way of life on release. In practice so attenuated was
officialdom’s faith in this principle that the great aim of all concerned,
except that of the children and their families, was to ensure that discharged
persons were sent well away from their old haunts and friends, preferably to
another hierarchically-structured environment; the Army, Royal Navy or Merchant
Navy for boys; a household for girls who went as domestic servants.

The initial missionary zeal, expressed by such propagandists
as Mary Carpenter and Matthew Davenport Hill, never infused the movement as a
whole. There can be little doubt that the motives of some management committees
were far from altruistic. The landowner, who provided land and buildings for a
school on his land, despite his advocacy of agricultural labour as a
character-cleansing therapy, was also providing the home farm and the fields of
his tenants with cheap, if not free, labour.17 The shipping line director, who started
a school in a superannuated vessel, was guaranteeing himself a supply of hands.
As a whole, management committees were more concerned with the economical
running of their schools than the rehabilitation of the offender. In the eyes
of most, young delinquents were the pariahs of the nation, society’s forgotten
children, the offspring of the undeserving poor remembered only when news of
some scandal erupted.”

– John Hurt, “Reformatory and industrial schools before 1933.” HISTORY OF EDUCATION, 1984, VOL. 13, NO. 1. pp. 46-49.

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