Prior to the 1850s, children who broke the law were subject to exactly the same penalties as adults, including execution, transportation and flogging.
An early attempt to deal separately with young offenders came in 1838 when a former military hospital at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight was converted for use as a juvenile penitentiary. It aimed to provide under-18s who had been sentenced to transportation with a preparatory period of discipline, education, and training in a useful trade. Each boy's progress at Parkhurst would determine whether he would be transported as a free emigrant, or with a conditional pardon, or to be detained on arrival. The Parkhurst regime was extremely strict and included a prison uniform, leg irons, silence on all occasions of instruction and duty, constant surveillance by officers, and 'a diet reduced to its minimum'. The conduct of Parkhurst boys after arrival in Australia did not live up to expectations and in 1863 Parkhurst was turned over for use as a women's convict prison.
A new approach to the treatment of young offenders came in the Reformatory School Act of 1854 which enabled courts to place under-16s for a period of two to five years in Reformatory Schools that had been certified by the Inspectors of Prisons.
The 1857 Industrial Schools Act provided for children 7-15 convicted of vagrancy to be placed in a broadly similar type of establishment known as an Industrial School. From 1861, those who could be sent to industrial schools included unruly children from workhouses or pauper schools, so long as they had not been previously convicted of a felony.
The Committee's recommendations formed the basis of the 1932 Children and Young Persons Act (slightly revised as part of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act) in England and Wales. The Act provided various courses of action for what were now described as "juveniles in need of care or protection" and "juvenile offenders", including being sent to an Approved School, put on probation, or put into the care of "any fit person". Courts could, in addition, sentence male juvenile offenders to be "privately whipped with not more than six strokes of a birch rod by a constable".
Many former Reformatory and Industrial Schools converted to become Approved Schools and so the great majority of the institutions continued to be operated by voluntary bodies. When the new system was introduced in 1933-4, there were initially 86 establishments, mostly former Industrial Schools. By 1938, there were 104 Approved Schools housing a total of 7,268 boys and 1,496 girls. Most of the new establishments were for girls.
The system of Approved Schools continued in England and Wales until 1973 when they were replaced by Community Homes with Education (CHEs).
In 1899, an experiment began in providing more appropriate accommodation for offenders aged from 16 to 21 years, which subsequently became known as the borstal system.
- Higginbotham, Peter The Prison Cookbook: A History of the English Prison and its Food (2010, The History Press)
- Brodie, A. Behind Bars - The Hidden Architecture of England's Prisons (2000, English Heritage)
- Brodie, A., Croom, J. & Davies, J.O. English Prisons: An Architectural History (2002, English Heritage)
- Harding, C., Hines, B., Ireland, R., Rawlings, P. Imprisonment in England and Wales (1985, Croom Helm)
- McConville, Sean A History of English Prison Administration: Volume I 1750-1877 (1981, Routledge & Kegan Paul)
- Morris, N. and Rothman, D.G. (eds.) The Oxfod History of the Prison (1997, OUP)
- Pugh R.B. Imprisonment in Medieval England (1968, CUP)
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.