Howard League for Penal Reform

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Howard League for Penal Reform
The Howard League for Penal Reform.jpg
Founded1866 (1866)
TypeCharitable organisation
Registration no.England and Wales: 251926
Legal statusRegistered charity
FocusPrison reform, criminal justice
  • 1 Ardleigh Road, London, N1 4HS
OriginsFounded in 1866 as the Howard Association
Area served
England and Wales
Key people
Frances Crook, Margery Fry
Formerly called
  • The Howard Association (1866–1921)
  • Penal Reform League (1907–1921)

The Howard League for Penal Reform is a registered charity in the United Kingdom. It is the oldest penal reform organisation in the world, named after John Howard. It was founded as the Howard Association in 1866 and changed its name in 1921, following a merger with the Penal Reform League. The charity focuses on penal reform in England and Wales.

The Howard League is independent of the United Kingdom government and is funded by voluntary donations and membership donations. The charity also receives funding from the Legal Services Commission, as it holds Legal Aid contracts in order to perform its work with young people in custody.

The Howard League's Chief Executive is Frances Crook, who joined the charity as Director in 1986.

The Howard League Centre for Penal Reform, the charity's headquarters since 2000, was officially opened by Betty Boothroyd in November 2001. The Centre is located in north London.


In 1921, the Howard Association merged with the Penal Reform League to become the Howard League for Penal Reform. The Penal Reform League had been founded in 1907 with Arthur St John as Secretary. The new organisation was led by Margery Fry, who had been Secretary of the Penal Reform League since 1918.

The Howard League played a key role in campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment; advocated for the founding of the National Probation Service; and co-founded the Prisoners' Advice Service. The charity also successfully campaigned for the introduction of the victims' compensation scheme.[1]

Historically-related organisations operate in a number of other commonwealth countries including the John Howard Society of Canada [2] and the New Zealand Howard League[3] of which the Howard League for Penal Reform Canterbury is a part.


The Howard League campaigns for a society with less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. Its high-profile campaign successes include working with police to reduce the number of arrests of children; overturning restrictions on sending books to prisoners; and securing a suspension of the criminal courts charge.

The charity has held inquiries to examine a variety of issues relating to the criminal justice system, including suicides in prison; sexual health in prison; and the imprisonment of former armed services personnel.

Child arrests[edit]

The Howard League campaigns for a reduction in the number of arrests of children in England and Wales.

Data published by the charity in 2016 showed that the number of arrests of children had fallen by 59 per cent in six years (from 245,763 in 2010 to 101,926 in 2015). The Howard League's Chief Executive, Frances Crook, said that the fall could be attributed to better use of resources, removing national targets, improving staff training, and support from communities.[4]

Books For Prisoners[edit]

The Howard League's Books For Prisoners campaign was set up in 2014 to overturn restrictions on sending books to people in prisons in England and Wales.

The campaign was supported by another charity, English PEN, and writers including Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom; Mark Haddon; Sarah Waters; David Hare (playwright); A. L. Kennedy; Alan Bennett; Salman Rushdie; Joanne Harris; Ian Rankin; Irvine Welsh; Nick Hornby; Ruth Padel and Philip Pullman.[5]

The campaign was successful. In December 2014, High Court judge Mr Justice Collins ruled that there was "no good reason" to restrict access to books for prisoners.[6]

Criminal Courts Charge[edit]

The Howard League campaigned against the criminal courts charge, which required defendants who were convicted of a crime to pay fees ranging from £150 to £1,200 towards the cost of their case.

When the charge was suspended by the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove in December 2015, Howard League Chief Executive Frances Crook called the decision a "victory for justice".[7]

Legal work[edit]

The Howard League has a legal team that helps children and young people in the criminal justice system. It provides a free and confidential advice line for prisoners under the age of 21.

The legal team also brings cases and conducts participation work to help shape the law and empower children to use their rights.[8]

Real work in prison[edit]

The Howard League set up a graphic design studio called Barbed in HM Prison Coldingley in 2005.

The Howard League ran the business until it ceased trading in 2008. The charity later set up a Centre of Excellence to advise government and the private sector on how to implement real work for prisoners. The charity works with prisons, MPs, select committees, financial institutions and business leaders.

Community Awards[edit]

The Howard League runs an annual Community Awards competition to recognise successful community projects that encourage desistance from crime.[9]


The Howard League's board of trustees is chaired by Eoin McLennan-Murray, a former prison governor who was appointed in November 2016. The previous Chair was Sue Wade, former deputy chief probation officer and youth justice manager in Hampshire.

Former presidents of the Howard League include Lord Carlile QC and playwright Sir John Mortimer CBE QC.

Similar organisations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Us". Howard League for Penal Reform. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Humberside Police 'most successful force' in reducing child arrests". BBC News. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  5. ^ Green, Chris (26 March 2014). "Top writers outraged at ban on books for prisoners". Independent. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  6. ^ "Prison book ban ruled unlawful by High Court". BBC News. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  7. ^ "Criminal courts charge to be scrapped by government". BBC News. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  8. ^ "Legal work". The Howard League for Penal Reform. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  9. ^ "Community Awards". The Howard League for Penal Reform. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
  10. ^

External links[edit]