The Increase Of Juvenile Depravity Among Tenement House Children 1877


The report of the Prison Association, of New York, exhibits interesting statistics regarding the increase of crime among children. Last year in this State there were 2,641 children under sixteen years of age committed, and 6,594 under twenty years, making a total of 9,235. The tabular statement of juvenile criminality shows a constant increase since the year 1862, a significant commentary on the effect of the war on the morality of the people; and the steady increase since that time may be justly attributed in part, though the report does not say this, to the shameful system of herding now practiced in the majority of the jails and penitentiaries of the State, and not alone of the State but of the country generally. In the Tombs in New York for instance, every cell at present has three inmates. This indiscriminate herding of young and old criminals, is one of the most appalling evils of the day, and to it may be attributed a large share of the crimes committed by the young in the large cities.

The Executive Committee of the Association, in calling attention to the fact that during the past fifteen years ending January last 103,716 children under twenty years of age were committed to prisons (28,546 of whom were not sixteen years of age), assert that the great p preventive agent against crime is a decent home. In view of this fact it becomes more than ever a matter of wonder that the better minds of the day do not protest against a further addition to the number of tenement houses in the larger cities. Why, if young criminals are made in overcrowded homes, should the greatest of all curses to the poor, the tenement house, be permitted to multiply and increase? To the herding of criminals of all degrees and ages is attributable a large proportion of the crime committed by juveniles, and out of this system naturally grow the other evils of intemperance, immorality and all offenses of a lesser magnitude born of these parent causes.

From earliest infancy tenement house children are liable to meet with vice; and they are exceptionally well situated if they do not meet with it daily in some form or other, since the inmates of the kind of houses they inhabit may and do frequently represent every class of social offenders.

A virtuous and healthful home life is wholly impossible for the poorer classes, especially in New York, and the decent rearing of children is out of the question. The seclusion of a home is denied them from the beginning, and before adult years are reached they are wholly indifferent to any ennobling influence that might be brought to bear, even if they have fortunately escaped a taste for crime. Children who live in tenement houses are not the class from which are expected men or women of a better kind. The poor rear their children as best they may, if they are decent, and if otherwise, the children rear themselves. Both classes are to be found in tenement houses, and the influence of the latter is so strong over the former that few worthy, industrious representatives come from such places.

The prison officials would do well to take this matter of homes into consideration and find out the proportion of children who have been properly sheltered. Herding criminals completes the evil education of the children confined for their first or even their second offense. Little girls and boys who for any cause are left for a day or an hour with older criminals are wronged in the most cruel manner; and until houses are established for their reception and reformation, and until recognition is taken of the fact that from the tenement house to the prison is but a short direct step, the era of crime among children will not end. Every day the need of reformatories is felt; every day some young criminal is placed in the school of crime by being confined with hardened offenders, and every day new recruits are made by the tenement system, which precludes the majority of even the most fortunate organizations from becoming wholly good and worthy citizens. Until we can do something in the way of improving the homes of the poor and a great deal in the matter of building reformatories, where the young may be taught the way to gain an honest livelihood, it will be little less than waste of time to seek for causes which will explain the continued increase of juvenile depravity in our large cities.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Increase Of Juvenile Depravity Among Tenement House Children 1877
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle September 2, 1877
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