Books & Digital Picks
This month’s family history inspiration
Researching Juvenile Offenders 1820–1920
This book tackles the experiences of child criminals mainly during the 19th century. It is divided into an introduction followed by four distinct chapters tackling the rise of the problem of juvenile crime, how the criminal justice system dealt with offenders, how to research juvenile criminals, and their case histories.
In 1816 the term ‘juvenile delinquency’ was first used in a report on gangs, probably young ex-soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars, but later spread to a wider group
that did not conform to the Victorian idea of what a child should be. This was hastened by the Industrial Revolution, which brought 1,000 people a week flooding into London where poverty, bad housing conditions and employed (if they were lucky) parents meant that working-class children were either in work or roaming the streets. The new police force, eager to prove itself, arrested young criminals who were committing petty theft and little more, and took them to the magistrate’s where punishment was out of proportion to the crime – transportation or prison. Conditions slowly improved, and various Factory Acts and the Education Act of 1870 changed children’s lives. But the effects of the justice system on children is well illustrated by the many case histories presented in this book.
Particularly interesting is the coverage of the different sources for research, including the Digital Panopticon Project (see the interview on page 93), which links together disparate records to allow the reconstruction of a juvenile offender’s life from courtroom to punishment to adulthood, and informs the case histories. This may be the most useful part of the book.
‘Punishment was out of proportion to the crime’
Juvenile delinquents were often sent to industrial schools, such as this one in Offerton, Greater Manchester