Howard League for Penal Reform

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For the U.S. benevolent organization, known by the former name of the Howard League, see Howard Association.
Howard League for Penal Reform
The Howard League for Penal Reform.jpg
Founded 1866 (1866)
Type Charitable organization
Registration no. England and Wales: 251926
Focus Prison reform, Criminal Justice
  • 1 Ardleigh Road, London, N1 4HS
Origins Founded in 1866 as the John Howard Association
Area served
England and Wales
Key people
Frances Crook, John Howard
Slogan Less Crime, Safer Communities, Fewer People in Prison.
Formerly called

The Howard Association (1866-1921)

Penal Reform League (1907-1921)

The Howard League for Penal Reform is a London-based registered charity in the United Kingdom. It is the oldest penal reform organisation in the world, named after John Howard. Founded in 1866 as the Howard Association, a merger with the Penal Reform League in 1921 created the Howard League for Penal Reform. The Howard League is independent of the United Kingdom government and is funded by voluntary donations; although it receives funding from the Legal Services Commission, this is a contractual relationship. The Howard League's Chief Executive is Frances Crook, who began as Director in 1986.

History and membership[edit]

Over its 140-year history, the Howard League has had a significant impact on the development of criminal justice policy. It led the creation of various other agencies and organisations, including the Prisoners' Advice Service. It also successfully campaigned for the introduction of the victims compensation scheme.

The Howard League has mounted recent high-profile campaigns on children in prison, women prisoners, suicide and self-harm, community sentences, prison education, and young offenders.

The Howard League is a membership organisation and draws its members from all parts of society - from MPs, QCs, peers and academics, to students, prisoners and legal professionals. In recent years, there has been widespread expansion of the number of students involved in the work of the Howard League, specifically setting up student societies within universities, such as Oxford, Bristol and Brighton. The students take on a wide range of activities, including organising events and lectures.

Legal work[edit]

A law department was set up in 2002 following the landmark victory the organisation achieved in the Children Act case. The team has evolved and now has a criminal defence (prison law) contract with the Legal Services Commission, for which it has been awarded the Quality Mark. The team provides the only dedicated legal service to young people in custody in England and Wales.

The Howard League for Penal Reform's legal team acts on behalf of young people under the age of 21 in custody. The work of The Howard League for Penal Reform's legal department has provided access to justice for many young people in custody. Not only does the team deal with treatment and conditions inside prison but has increasingly dealt with issues concerning the provision of support and accommodation for children on release from custody, enabling children to leave custody with improved lives that are far less likely to accumulate a cluster of legal problems in the future.

Children and young people[edit]

U R Boss is a project that provides an enhanced legal service shaped by and for young people in custody and those recently released into the community. Funded by the Big Lottery for 5 years, U R Boss provides a national programme of participation opportunities and support for young people. U R Boss is a project led by young people for young people that is part of the Howard League for Penal Reform. It’s a project for any young people and young adults aged 10 to 24 years old that are or have been involved in the criminal justice system and may have been in some form of custody. U R Boss is a project that supports young people in the criminal justice system to secure their legal rights and to have an impact in policy, practice and the services that affect them. The Howard League for Penal Reform have stated that it wished to change the criminal justice system, stop children and young people going into custody and to make sure they get the help and support they need.

Change inside prisons[edit]

The Howard League for Penal Reform campaigns to encourage the use of community sentences over prison. The League believes that Community sentences work towards building a society where more people live free from crime,[citation needed] raise public protection, reduce the rate of offending and can repay damage to individual victims or the community as a whole.[citation needed] They also assert that Community sentences allow the opportunity to get to the root of someone's offending, for example through drug, alcohol and health services[citation needed]. The Howard League holds an annual Community Programmes Awards which promotes and celebrates successful alternatives to prison.

Between 2005-2008 the Howard League ran a project demonstrating the first ever prison based business. ‘Barbed’ was a graphic design studio managed by the Howard League. People involved in the business worked full-time and were paid for their work. They were able to pay tax, national insurance, make contributions to victims and their own families as well as save money to support themselves upon release.


The Howard League has a number of high-profile supporters, including Michael Palin, Prunella Scales, Sheila Hancock, Ray Fearon, Monty Don, Cherie Booth, and a number of members of the House of Lords and House of Commons. The Howard League Centre for Penal Reform, into which the organisation moved in 2000, was officially opened by Betty Boothroyd in November 2001. The Centre is located in Hackney, north London.

Today, the Howard League has a staff of 32 (as of May 2011) and 20 trustees. Former presidents include Lord Carlile QC and playwright Sir John Mortimer CBE QC. The current Chair, appointed in January 2007, is Sue Wade, former deputy chief probation officer and youth justice manager in Hampshire. The previous Chair was Dick Whitfield, former Chief probation officer in Kent, and a member of the Parole Board.

Similar organisations[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]