One question that we frequently get asked about our organization is where we got our name from. More specifically, people often inquire “who is John Howard?”

As a prominent man who lived and died in the 18th century, there is a lot of information out there about John Howard, from books and biographies, to a range of hearsay. He’s even the namesake of one of our employee recognition programs – the Spirit of John Howard Award – which takes place annually as a way to acknowledge a staff member who goes above and beyond in demonstrating our core values.

So, who was he, and why are over 60+ organizations in Canada alone named after him?

Born in 1726, John Howard was an English prison reformer that observed unjust social conditions in prisons, both as a prisoner of war during the Seven Years War, and as the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, a post which included the task of inspecting local prisons.

a painting of John Howard

During his time as a prisoner of war and as a High Sheriff, he experienced the abysmal conditions of prisons in England and France. Having both endured and witnessed immense suffering, John Howard dedicated his life to advocating for the rights of prisoners and other marginalized individuals. He was determined in his belief that every citizen must ultimately accept responsibility for the criminal justice system within their community. 

While we may advocate for different interests or use different methods, the spirit of John Howard is embodied by all of us as we work to create safe, healthy, and inclusive communities for all.

The name John Howard has been taken up by many social and criminal justice causes and organizations across the globe – and here in Canada, by the John Howard Societies working across the nation to advocate for and provide support to vulnerable people and advance public safety and inclusion.

John Howard – the Society, that is, established its BC roots in Vancouver by people who, like John Howard, observed unjust social conditions and demonstrated a strong commitment to tackling issues that were important to the community and to the criminal justice system.

The John Howard Society was established in Vancouver in 1929, and became incorporated in 1932 as the John Howard Society of British Columbia. JHS Canada was subsequently established in 1962.

Our friends at the John Howard Society of Canada have published a great detailed background of John Howard. We invite you to give it a read if you want to learn more about our namesake, and about prison reform in the 18th century.

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