The Underworld

Juvenile Crime


The System

Famous Crime






Juvenile delinquency of the Parisian adolesent was a widespread issue in the mid-nineteenth century. Who or what was causing this problem of crime is a highly debatable topic. Were the parents finicial situation to blame? The child's lack of education, a proper job, or strong community ties? Was it a retaliation of anger against the system or was it simply a means to get by?

The Gamin and the Bourgeois, by Jeannoit from

In 1816, the prison reform idea of seperating incarcerated youth from adult criminals came into affect. Most young offenders were placed in "houses of correctional education" for rehabilitation, one being La Petite Roquette (Berlanstein). In 1850, a law was passed sending minor offenders not to jail or rehabilitation buildings, but to agricultural colonies. However, with all this in play, not all youth offenders were punished, some not at all. The Penal Codes gave the state the option of punishment. There was an obligation of not so much punishment but of promised supervision. If a child were caught breaking the law, the state could decide whether they went to jail/colonies, or back home to their parents. If it was believed that the child's home could provide supervision and rehabilitation, the child would not be punished. This law left the door open to unfair treatment of children whose parents were not in a position of power to sway the police, or whose parents were occupied with working or taking care of other children. The occupational status of the parents was also important in judging whether to detain a youth offender. Statistics show that the large majority of children criminals were from families of laboring classes.

This table shows the percentage of occupations held by fathers whose sons were detained from 1854-1862. As can be seen, nearly all fathers were employed in a "working class" occupation. None of these men were among the elite classes. It can be assumed that these men's sons easily got away with any crimes comitted. Only those families with no social and economic power would see their sons being put in the Petite Roquette or sent to agricultural colonies.

Image taken from the Journal of Social History.

However, it could be the case that the higher class adolesences had no reason to commit misdemeanors therefore stayed out of the system all together. To support this theory, the types of misdemeors comitted must be taken into account.

Image taken from the Journal of Social History.

As seen in this table, also from the Journal of Social History, the most common crime was vagrancy, simply lacking a domicile and means of support (Berlanstein). Along with begging, this made up more than half the criminal population of children. As the crimes become more and more violent (qualified theft, fraud, violence, rape, vandalism), the percentages drop. Why would a middle class or higher child find the need for vagrancy or begging? The majority of these crimes were comitted by the children of lower class families.

Another defining characteristic of the lower class child is a lack of education. As seen in the table below, less than half the boys detained were completely literate. As for their eduacation, only 10% had had five or more years of schooling, the majority, 31.5%, none at all.

Image taken from the Journal of Social History.

As can be seen, the large majority of juvenile delinquint cases were not angry outbreaks against the system, but simply acts for them and their families to get by. A young boy would be a vagrant because he had no where else to go. He would beg because he had no food. The larger acts of violence such as theft and rape, were in the minority. "...the offenses do seem more pathetic than frightening (Berlanstein)."