Learn about daily life, punishment, and reform for children imprisoned in Wicklow Gaol.
Before prison reform, it is likely that there were many children inside the gaol. Some were born to existing prisoners and knew nothing but the life of an inmate until they were released. Many children were jailed for relatively minor crimes – mainly theft.
Children were whipped regularly, starved, and made to work the treadmill. Sometimes a child would not be able to keep up with the rest on the treadmill and fall, only to be trampled on by the others working the torture machine. Many children were also transported to various areas of the British Empire, including the Americas and Australia.
Harsh Sentencing for Children
The youngest ever person to be sentenced to transportation was an 11 year old girl called Mary Wade. Though not an inmate of Wicklow Gaol, Wade’s arrest for stealing clothes and selling them to a pawnbroker indicates how harsh sentencing could be for children.
Another tough prison sentence was given to an 8 year old boy named Thomas Pitt. Pitt was imprisoned for 1 week and given a flogging (whipping) for stealing two shillings from a woman’s purse. No differentiation existed between adult and child when it came to punishment.
Reform and Decrease in Crime
By the 1850s, crime in Ireland had decreased. Some thought that this was attributed “to a wholesome fear of the sentence of whipping”. Be this true or not, the fact remains that limited education and sanitation programmes were commonplace in jails by this time.
Whipping, and other corporal punishments, gave way to teachings of reformation and encouragement. Implementation of reform took a long time and, even into the 2oth century, prison inmates of all ages were still treated very poorly.