In the 19th century, children -- particularly the children of the poor -- were considered to be an exploitable resource of docile and cheap labor. Anyone who had the effrontery to steal so much as a portion of a loaf of bread for any reason would (at the very least) go to prison, regardless of their age. However, people of conscience were beginning to protest against this situation. The story takes place in a prison for children where conditions are particularly harsh. The warden is a thick-headed martinet who demands complete compliance with the rules, or the children will be brutally dealt with. The assistant warden is a more modern man, and is appalled by the whole institution, but seeks to begin by reforming it. To that end, he has invited a journalist to come and see the conditions that prevail there, in the hopes that she will rouse public opinion against at least this one form of injustice.
Le père de M. Alexis
La comtesse d'Ozeray