Governments in 19th century Britain were
worried about crime in general and juvenile crime (crimes
committed by people below adult age) in particular. They could
see that there was a problem of child criminals. Charles Dickens
portrayed the most famous of them, the Artful Dodger and Fagin's
gang, in his novel "Oliver Twist", in 1837.
There were no separate prisons for children
at the beginning of this period, many writers pointed out
that there was little point in sending young criminals to
prison alongside hardened adult criminals who would only teach
them better ways to steal. Courts sometimes let child offenders
off because they feared the worst from sending them to prison.
Other courts were, however, quite ready to give long, tough
prison sentences to children on their second, or later, offence.
Change was slow. In 1834 Parkhurst
Prison was built as a prison for boys. In 1854 Reformatory
Schools for child offenders were started. Life in these prisons
was tough, with corporal punishment -whipping and birching
- regularly used. There were still 1500 children in adult
prisons in 1871. However, by this time the government understood
the need for separate treatment for children and there were
special rules for those who ended up in adult prisons. By
1890 there were only 253 children in adult prisons. From 1899
no children could be sent to one and further reforms followed
in the early 20th century (see Gallery Punishment
in the 20th Century).