I am currently reading Les Miserables manga version ( Which takes place in France, as I recall). In the picture below, the main character has just got his freedom from Toulon Jail. The officer said that,

You must've learned, reading, writing and arithmetic at the prisoner's school

Why did people get these lessons when they were in jail? Why didn't they get this basic knowledge, like writing and reading, when they are just a innocent person? Is this a result of some of the social hierarchy in France?

enter image description here

  • 2
    @Bookeater You should post that as an answer, not a comment.
    – justCal
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 16:18
  • I'm not sure this is a history question; it sounds more political in nature. What is it you want to know? If you want someone to articulate French penal policy in the 18th century, that would make sense. But the question is phrased in a way that evokes a desire to share outrage at some situation - help center discourages that.
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 22:14
  • 2
    @MarkC.Wallace: It's "enough" of a history question. It was cast as "how," rather than "why." And the answer had to do with prison reform, which is historical.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 30, 2017 at 4:22
  • @user2448131 the links are just a starting point as they are unsubstantiated. I lacked the time at that point to dig up better. Never mind though an answer is in place.
    – Bookeater
    Commented Sep 30, 2017 at 8:11

1 Answer 1


Prisoners were put to work at prisons such as the Bagne in Toulon. Nearly all jobs required "training," and some jobs required teaching prisoners to read and write.

Prison guards found that "working" prisoners were more docile, and they also helped earn their keep.

The period from 1820-1840 was a time of prison reform(shorter sentences, less use of the death penalty, etc. and one of the reforms was education of prisoners so they could earn their livings after being released.

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