Building safer and healthier communities


Who was John Howard?


John Howard was a British prison reformer who lived 1726-1790. When  he was elected to the office of High Sheriff in Bedford County, he used his position in a unique way, investigating the conditions of prisons in England and much of Europe. His activities and reports inspired the House of Commons to pass laws aimed at eradicating conditions that Howard brought to light. His writings encouraged practices that have brought prison systems several steps closer to becoming humanitarian and more effective.


Howard advocated medical care of prisoners; that food be provided; that jailers not be allowed to profit from their prisoners; that prisoners be released when so ordered by the courts, and not required to pay a fee for the privilege; that young prisoners be separated from the older and hardened prisoners; that male and female prisoners have separate accommodation; and that prisoners be allowed work and activity. For those unmanageable prisoners, he urged punishment by solitary confinement and a bread and water diet, rather than torture or punishment by the lash or scourge.


The History of John Howard Society in Canada


The Canadian history of the John Howard Society began with a group of church workers in Toronto in 1867. Their mission was to bring spiritual help to prisoners in the local jail. In 1874, this small group became known as the Prisoners Aid Association of Toronto, recognizing that more than spiritual aid was needed by the prisoners. The Prisoners Aid Association of Toronto became inactive in 1915 when interest dwindled. In 1929, a citizens' group led by General Draper, the chief of Police in Toronto, reactivated the association as the Citizens Service Association. General Draper believed that the work of police was undermined by the circumstances facing people on release from prison. The organization of volunteers provided practical help to ex-prisoners with housing, clothing and employment.


In 1931, Reverend J. Dinnage Hobden formed a similar group in British Columbia under the name of the John Howard Society. The society aided prisoners and ex-convicts in rehabilitation and re-integration.

In 1946, the Citizens Service Association in Ontario changed its name and became the John Howard Society of Ontario. Most other provinces formed John Howard Societies between 1947 and 1960. In February of 1962, the John Howard Society of Canada was formed when all provinces, except for Quebec, ratified a constitution. Quebec joined the John Howard Society in 1980. The Northwest Territories joined in 1994.

The John Howard Society fills an important role in public education, community service and in pressing for reform in the criminal justice area. Currently there are branches and offices in over 60 communities across Canada, provincial offices in all 10 provinces and the Northwest Territories, and a national office in Kingston, Ontario.


The John Howard Society of Canada is a federation of provincial and local societies comprised of people whose goal is to understand and respond to problems of crime, to work with people who have come into conflict with the law, to review, evaluate and advocate for changes in the criminal justice process, and to engage in public education on matters involving criminal law and its application.