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Criminal prophylaxy and penal policy in France (1919-1944) : the impossible development of a social defense policy





The theory of social defense developed in the late nineteenth century from the work of Italian and French schools of criminal anthropology. The search for the etiology of deviant behavior, and particularly criminal behavior, should lead to the replacement of certain basic concepts of criminal law such as crime, guilt and punishment, by others that take into account the dangerousness of individuals guilty of criminal acts. The aim was to replace undifferentiated criminal sanctions with more personalized measures designed to improve public safety. In the inter-war period, criminal anthropology gave way to criminal prophylaxis, imagined by the psychiatrist Edouard Toulouse. The members of his network displayed an intense activity, but two subjects were paradoxically overlooked in their investigations: the French Guiana penal colonies and the metropolitan children's penal colonies. The public was, however, very shocked by Albert London’s revelations after his investigation into the Cayenne penal colony. Almost simultaneously, the scandal of children's penal colonies, also orchestrated by journalists and philanthropic associations broke out. The thesis aims to a better understanding of the failure of the Criminal Prophylaxis, which disappeared on the eve of the second world war, even when the death sentence of the penal colony of Cayenne was pronounced, for reasons actually more economical than humanitarian, as well as the replacement of children’s penal colonies with the Supervised Education System. In studying the rich debates on criminal policy in the inter-war period, it also highlights the commitment of unfairly unsung actors to date.

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