The Underworld

La Petite Roquette


The System

Famous Crime





La Petite Roquette, situated in Paris, held boys between the ages of six to sixteen. Here many practices of rehabilitation were carried out for the young boys, including solitary confinement. The goal of this new system of punishment for youths was to prevent them from failing again into a life of crime and to form them into acceptable members of society so that they could return after their time had been served.

La Petite Roquette, Paris, by Roger Viollet

Boys in La Petite Roquette and other similar facilities in Paris at the time were prevented from seeing their parents over the entire duration of their incarceration because of "rehabiliative purposes". The only people whom the young criminals came into contact with were the director of the prison, the chaplin, and a doctor if need be. These were the only human contacts the boys made. They were in total isolation in their cells (6 feet by 7 1/2 feet) day and night. They were not even allowed out of their cells for Sunday mass. This seems a little hypocritical on the part of the prison directors because one of the strongest forms of rehabilitation they believed in was strict religious guidance. Instead of allowing them to attend mass the prisoners were forced to meditate alone in their cells and then loudly recite their prayers so that the priest could hear them. A "daily promenade" was later added to the daily activities of the prisoner. Although done alone, it was installed to decline the death rate.

Juvenile offenders also, while serving their sentences, were employees of the prison. They were taught a craft or a trade, such as copper engraving or cabinet making. This again was an aspect of the rehabilitation process. Hoping that the boys would soon enter into society once again, this practice equipped them with an opportunity when they left prison. They learned a skill that would help them later in life.

Religious, moral, occupational, and even a small amount of educational training was given to youth offenders. However, how all of these processes were carried out in each individual institution is another story. For example, in the following quote, Peter Kropotkin gives an eyewittness account of what he saw as a prisoner in France in 1830.

"Brutalized as they (convicted children) are by the warders, and left without any honest and moralizing influence, they are foredoomed to become permanent immates of prisons, and to die in a central prison."

Also, in reference to the occupational training the youth received in prisons, Jerome Leon Vidal writes in his Memoire sur l'education correctionnelle des jeunes detenus et sur le patronage des jeunes liberes,

"treated unfortunates entrusted to them by society as profit-making machines for production, instead of as depraved and misguided children who ought to be made first of all onto honest men."