Don Bosco was in Rome from December 22nd, 1877, till March 26th, 1878. On February 16th, he was received by the Minister of the Interior Francesco Crispi, with the purpose of discussing security for the forthcoming Conclave, at which Pope Leo XIII would be elected. A long conversation followed on the ills of the prison system, especially the juvenile prisons. Crispi inquired as to the saint's methods, as a result of which Don Bosco sent him a brief pro-memoria.
    Don Bosco was also seeking an opportunity to open a house in
Rome. It is clear that the document is motivated by both circumstances.
We have another treatment by Bosco of his system, of a more general nature. The interest in the present one derives from its specific application to the correction of young offenders.
    It also illustrates Don Bosco's capacity for sober but accurate social analysis.   


The Preventive System In The Education Of The Young

There are two systems used in the moral and civic education of youth: repressive and preventive. One and the other are applicable in society generally, and in houses of education. We will give a brief general outline of the preventive system as it applies in society generally, then how it can be used in places of detention, in colleges, in hostels, and in boarding schools

The Preventive and Repressive Systems In Society at Large

The preventive system consists in making known the laws and the penalties they establish. Then the authorities must be vigilant to discover and punish offenders. This is the system used in the army and in general among adults. But young people who are uninstructed, unreflective, urged on by companions or recklessness, often blindly permit themselves to be dragged into wrongdoing for the sole reason that they are left to themselves.

Whilst the law should look out for offenders, a great deal of effort should also be put into diminishing their numbers.

Which Young People Can be Said To be At Risk

I believe that one can identify the following, not as bad, but as being in danger of becoming so.

1: Those who go from cities or other regions in the State to other cities and regions in search of work. Generally, they have little money with them, and in a short time, it is spent. If they don't find work soon, they run into the real danger of getting involved in theft, and of beginning a way of life that will lead them to ruin.

2: Those who have lost their parents, and have no one to care for them and so are left to become vagabonds and to associate with criminal elements; while instead, a friendly hand, a loving voice would have been able to direct them to the path of honourable living and honest citizenship.

3: Those who have parents who cannot, or will not take care of their children, such that they throw them out of the house, or abandon them completely. Unfortunately, there are a lot of such unnatural parents.

4: Vagabonds who fall into the hands of the police, but who are not yet Law-breakers. If these were received into a hostel where they could be taught, prepared for work, they would certainly be snatched away from the prisons and restored to society.

What Should Be Done

Experience has taught that one can provide efficaciously for these four categories of children:

1: With recreation centres opening on Sundays and holidays. With pleasant recreation, with music, with physical education, with (the opportunity) to run, jump, declaim, put on plays, they would readily be gathered together. Then add to that evening classes, Sunday school with religious instruction, and one is giving to these poor sons of the people adequate and indispensable moral nourishment.

2: When they are so gathered, one must enquire to discover who is unemployed and take steps to find them work and oversee their work during the week.

3: Beyond that, one comes into contact with those who are poor and abandoned, and who lack the wherewithal to feed and clothe themselves, or to find a place to sleep at night. There is only one way of providing for them: with hostels and safe places which have arts and crafts, and also by means of agricultural schools.

Government Intervention

The Government, without taking on the minutiae of administration, without interfering with the principle of legitimate (public) charity, could cooperate in the following ways:

1: Provide centres for activities on festive days; help equip the schools and the centres with the necessary equipment.

2: Provide locales for hostels, equip them with the necessary tools for the arts and trades to which the young people received in them could be put.

3: The government would allow freedom in the enrolment of students, but would pay a daily or monthly subsidy for those, who having found themselves in the conditions described above, would be admitted. Their condition would be verified either through government certification, or through the normal activity of the Police Department, which very frequently comes across children who are precisely in this condition.

4: This daily subsidy would be limited to one-third of what it would cost to maintain a youth in a state reformatory. Taking as norm the correctional prisons of the Generala in Turin, and reducing the total expense for each individual (by two-thirds), one could calculate this at 80 cents a day.

In this way the government would help, but leave freedom to the participation of the private charity of citizens.


On the basis of thirty-five years' experience, it is possible to establish that:

1: Many boys coming out of the prisons can readily be directed towards a trade with which to earn their bread honestly,

2: Many who, being in great danger of going out of control, had begun to make a nuisance of themselves to honest citizens, and were already causing a deal of trouble to the public authorities, were plucked out of danger, and were put on the road to becoming honest citizens.

3: One can see from our records that not less than 100,000 youths have been cared for, taken in, educated with this system, so that some learned music, others liberal arts, some an art or craft, and have become good-living workmen, shop assistants, owners of shops, teachers, hardworking clerks, and many have gained honourable rank in the army. Many, endowed by nature with a good intelligence, were able to take up university courses, graduating in Letters, Mathematics, Medicine, Law; or becoming engineers, notaries, pharmacists and suchlike.