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Infants or Juveniles

Julia Osgothorpe
Julia Osgothorpe

Until 1838, when Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight was opened there was no prison in the country especially for juveniles. Children were in prison along with adults. In Bedford, the 1820 House of Correction was used for minor offenders and children. People believed that children offended because they were uneducated, and so when Bedford Gaol was rebuilt in 1849 a master was employed to teach young people to read and write.

The Youthful Offenders Act (1854) said that children were to be punished in prison for a short time (usually several weeks) then sent to a reformatory school. While in prison they were treated as harshly as adult prisoners and kept in solitary confinement. In reformatory schools they had to do hard work. When they misbehaved they were punished by being whipped or kept in leg irons.

The Bedford Reformatory School was opened in 1857, with room for 30 boys. Even after then, children were kept at the gaol until they could be sent on to other institutions. There are cases in Bedford of children as young as 4 being arrested for vagrancy, because their parents were begging. One 4 year old was sentenced to 21 days hard labour until his case came to the attention of the Home Secretary.

Young children were kept in the gaol with their mothers and sometimes sent on with them to other places such as Pentonville, or the hulks, or transportation.