Don Bosco

The Preventive System in the Education of the Young (to F. Crispi 1878)




[AT RISK] (1878)

A brief memo sent to the Minister of the Interior Francesco Crispi on 21 February 1878 as the basis on which the preventive system applied among young people in danger in public streets or homes and hospices can be regulated.

Critical ed. in DBE, Scritti, pp. 291-294 (“Original by Don Bosco of a note for Minister Francesco Crispi”).


There are two systems used in the moral and civic education of youth: repressive and preventive. One or the other can be applied 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. This is the system used in the army and in general among adults. But young people who are uninstructed, non-reflective, 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 at risk 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 associate with criminal elements, while a friendly hand, a loving voice would have been able to guide them on the path of honourable living and upright citizenship.

3. Those who have parents who cannot or will not look after their children and throw them out of the house or abandon them completely. Unfortunately, there are many such unnatural parents.

4. Vagabonds who fall into the hands of the police, but who are not yet Law-breakers. If these were admitted to 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 us that we can provide efficaciously for these four categories of children:

1. With recreation centres opening on Sundays and holidays. With pleasant recreation, music, physical education, (the opportunity) to run, jump, recite, put on plays, they would readily come together. Add to that evening classes, Sunday school with religious instruction, and one gives adequate and essential moral nourishment to these poor sons of the people.

2. When they are brought together this way we must enquire and discover who is unemployed, then take steps to find them work and oversee their work during the week.

3. Beyond that, we come into contact with those who are poor and abandoned, and lack the wherewithal to feed and clothe themselves, or 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 could cooperate in the following ways without taking on the minutiae of administration, or interfering with the principle of legitimate (public) charity:

1. Provide centres for activities on weekends, 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 which the young people admitted to them could be assigned to.

3. The Government would allow freedom in the enrolment of students, but would pay a daily or monthly subsidy for those admitted if they have found themselves in the conditions described above. 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 the correctional prisons of the Generala in Turin as a norm, 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 citizens free to play their part with private charity.


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 guided to a trade with which to earn an honest crust.

2. Many who were at risk of being out of control, had begun to be public pests 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 upright citizens.

3. One can see from our records that no fewer than 100,000 youths have been cared for, taken in, educated with this system, some learning music, others liberal arts, some an art or craft and have become good-living workmen, shop assistants, owners of shops, teachers, hard-working clerks, and many have gained an honourable rank in the army. Many, endowed by nature with a good intelligence, were able to take up university courses, graduating in Literature, Mathematics, Medicine, Law or becoming engineers, notaries, pharmacists and suchlike.