The conviction of a child is a concept that as a modern society we struggle to discuss, the image of childhood is fixated as an innocent, naïve period in which we grow and learn right from wrong. Today in the UK to be sent to prison you have to 18 or over, if you commit a crime younger than this you are classed as a young offender. Therefore if a crime is committed the young offender will be sentenced to time in a rehabilitation centre rather then sent to prison. The justice system we have today has not always been the case as during the 19th century all criminals no matter age or gender were sent to the same prison. Throughout this blog post I will be following a child criminal of the 18th century and analysing whether the justice system saved or destroyed them.
Mary Creed is just one example of a child who was convicted and thrown into a poor justice system during the 18th century. At just 14 Creed was accused of stealing. For a child of this age today they would get a written warning from the police. However, Creed was not so lucky and for stealing; 2 gowns, value 8s.; 2 sheets, value 7s., and 2 shifts, Value 3s was sentenced to three months imprisonment in Newgate prison. Newgate prison was the main prison in Britain during the 19th century, it held criminals of all genders, ages and crimes. This was a huge error within the 19th century as this opened a new era of criminality as those who committed petty crime intermixed with criminals of a much higher level.
The question we must first consider is why Creed turned to crime in the first place? At the age of 14 it is unlikely that a child would turn to crime for anything other than survival. Children during the 19th century were sent to work and forced to fend for themselves. This meant that for many children money and food were scarce and hard to come by. This was the main contributing factor for children committing crime such as theft. However, the justice system that these children were forced into caused them more harm than good as many after prison went on to commit more crimes.
This was the case for Creed as at 15 she was again accused of theft but this time of a much higher degree as she stole; 1 watch, value 40s., the goods of Thomas Forster. This was a huge amount of money during this time and landed Creed 14 years Transportation to New South Wales. So did being transported save Creed or like Newgate make her worse? In 1837 Creed asked for permission to marry John Saunders, the couple married and began a new life with each other away from the criminal lives they both once led. Therefore, being transported saved Creed it allowed her a new life in which she had room to learn and fall in love.
As previously mentioned the 19th century justice system had many flaws, when it came to children it showed little to no leniency or opportunity for retribution. However, despite the prison system failing and causing more children like Mary Creed to turn to bigger crime. The transportation system was a huge success deterring most criminals away from crime and into a life of rehabilitation.
N.A. (1800). Mary Creed. Retrieved from https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/: https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/
N.A. (1998) Children in prison. Retrieved from kids-in-prison: http://www.ebaumsworld.com/kids-in-prison/85229671/