John Howard Society

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The John Howard Society is a Canadian non-profit organization that seeks to develop understanding and effective responses to the problem of crime and prison reform. It is named after John Howard, a philanthropist and early English prison reformer. This society works with adults, children, and youths to help rebuild their lives.


The John Howard Society was created in 1867 by a church group focused on providing spiritual care to prisoners in a Toronto prison. Later in 1874, this group became recognized as the Prisoners Aid Association of Toronto. Also around this time, they discovered more was needed by this group of prisoners than the spiritual care they had been providing. Unfortunately, World War I had immense effects on the church group and interest in their work decreased.

By 1929, Toronto's chief of police at the time, Chief Draper noted a need to reactivate the work done by the church group thus creating the Citizens Service Association. This association was volunteer operated and assisted prisoners re-entering society in finding housing, clothing and employment.

The idea spread and in 1931 British Columbia saw a similar institution created by Reverend J. Dinnage Hobden under the name we now know it as, the John Howard Society named after John Howard who was a prison reformer living from 1726 until 1790.

In 1946, the Citizens Service Association followed suit and became the John Howard Society of Ontario. Between 1947 and 1960 most other provinces created their own version of the Association. The John Howard Society of Canada was formed in February 1962 when all provinces (excluding Quebec) approved a constitution. In 1980, Quebec joined and in 1994 the Northwest Territories.

Today, John Howard society offices and branches can be found in sixty communities across Canada, in all of the provinces and the Northwest Territories. The John Howard Society has sixty-five offices across Canada which specialize in the reintegration of individuals exiting the prison system back into society. They also work to keep individuals from making decisions that will increase their likelihood of contact with the law. In addition to this, their head office is located in Kingston, Ontario, which is within driving distance of 10 penitentiaries.


The people who comprise the John Howard Society of today have much the same focus as the original groups with a few additions. For example, advocating for change in the criminal justice process and public education around the issues of prison conditions, criminal law and their application are all newer considerations as society and the criminal justice system change.

In addition to working with people in penitentiaries, Societies today also work with adults and youth in correctional facilities that are either federally and provincially operated. These services offer programming for offenders in custody and in the community and also assist those who have been labeled as "at risk" to continue to live or reintegrate into living "within the law".

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