Oliver is first convicted and committed to three months hard labor, but is then discharged so he does not go to jail.
When Oliver is arrested for stealing Mr. Brownlow’s handkerchief, no one listens when Brownlow says he does not think the boy did it. Dodger and Charlie ran off, so Oliver was left to take the rap.
The victim, Brownlow, pitied Oliver and thought he might be innocent. He was a very young boy and did not look well.
The old gentleman looked almost as rueful as Oliver when the key grated in the lock. He turned with a sigh to the book, which had been the innocent cause of all this disturbance. (ch 11)
Brownlow is insulted by Mr. Fang, the magistrate, who at first thinks that the gentleman is the accused and not the accuser. Oliver is too confused and frightened to answer the magistrate’s questions, so the officer just makes up a name (Tom White) and guesses at the rest (that he has no home and no parents).
Just as Oliver is sentences to three months hard labor the bookstall owner rushes in and tells the magistrate that it was not him, it was another boy, and there were three boys total.
The robbery was committed by another boy. I saw it done; and I saw that this boy was perfectly amazed and stupified by it. (ch 11)
Brownlow takes the boy home since he knows he is an orphan and has nowhere to go. He feels that the boy is in poor health and frightened out of his wits. He also feels like he recognizes the boy. He seems familiar. It turns out to be because Mr. Brownlow’s friend Leeford was Oliver’s father.
With a combination of humor and sentimentality, Dickens exposes the inanity of the justice system. The magistrate is laughable, and poor Oliver is almost sentenced to three months in jail because he can't take the time to listen. Fortunately, Brownlow rescues Oliver and he gets a taste of a softer life.
He wasn't sent to prison.