The Dangerous Classes


" is prison incarnate, it is Bicetre made flesh. All is prison around me; I find prison in all its forms, in a humanform as well. As in the form of bolts or iron bars. The wall is a prison of stone; this door is a prison of wood; these turnkeys are prisons of flesh and bone. Prison is a horrible creature, complete, indivisible, half edifice, half human being..."

--Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamne by Victor Hugo (Chp.3,pg.680)

"-Moi: jamais je n'ai chante

Que pour toi, dans ta cage,

Cage de la gaite."

--Tristan Corbiere 18th/19th century French Poet

"Vaincre a Austerlitz c'est grand, prendre la Bastille, c'est immense."- (Hugo, Les Miserables)


  • By 1820, almost all French prisons provided for both day and night seperation of men from women inmates. Largest Prison Establishments for women were Rennes and Cadillac.
  • Productive prisons were good prisons in the eye of the French society-unproductive prisons (unprofitable) were considered unuseful and inefficient: "The new prison system was founded on the belief that its residents would be the poor, those without work and without a trade." (O'Brien,150)
  • A prisoner in the prison of Fleury Merogis said, " No complaints about the cells. They're not very big, but they're clean. They're a little like a monk's cell."


Education and Correction in the Prisons

Jean-Joseph Clemens, Souvenirs de bagne:1840-1842

When we open a school, we close a prison."--Victor Hugo

  • The belief that education could indeed prevent crime and/or prevented wrong-doers from doing it again was held among the minority of the population in 18th and 19th century France.
  • Before 1875 instruction in prisons was given more torwards production and improving work skills.
  • Most guards in the 19th century were former soldiers

The people that were believed to be the reformers were the prison guards (turnkeys) themselves: " The guard was and is the most important person in the operation of the prison. More than the prison director, the work boss, or the teacher, the prison guard had immediate and total control over the life of the convict." (O'Brien, 205)