An Undesirable Class: State Responses to Illegitimacy and Juvenile Delinquency in Jamaica 1868–1918

Friday, January 3, 2014: 3:30 PM
Columbia Hall 10 (Washington Hilton)
Shani Roper, Smith College
Throughout the late nineteenth century, Jamaican civil society bemoaned the existence of not just visible forms of poverty but also the rise of a juvenile criminal and destitute class. Colonial administrators, ministers of religion, writers to the newspapers blamed the breakdown of the Jamaican family, illegitimacy, and poverty among the labouring population for the existence of an uncontrollable juvenile population. Many called for tighter legislation to control illegitimacy and to force parents, especially mothers, to bear responsibility for their ill-supervised progeny. Discussions about illegitimacy and criminality, however, were grounded within a larger discourse about social order and control. Colonial administrators argued that Jamaica’s future as a civilized nation depended on the ability of parents to limit the interaction of children with the criminal classes. (Re)-socialization of the progeny of the labouring population was a necessity for the progress of the nation. As part of this effort, the Jamaican colonial government, in 1868, established the Government Industrial School and Reformatory in St. Andrew. Soon after, the state partnered with religious organizations to establish industrial schools throughout the island. This paper argues that industrial schools and reformatories were central to the colonial state’s efforts to control juvenile delinquency in the island. It will reveal that popular notions of the deviance of Jamaican laboring class children - rather than statistics - informed policies adopted to regulate crimes such as praedial larceny, provision of social services as well as educational policy in industrial schools.
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