The John Howard Society fills an important role in public education, community service and in pressing for reform in the criminal justice area.

In 1951, a group of St. John’s citizens concerned about the plight of prisoners and ex-inmates decided to establish an organization which would work toward penal reform and the creation of programs for the rehabilitation of offenders. They decided to name the agency after the eighteenth century penal reformer, John Howard.

In 1969 a branch office was opened in Corner Brook. Twelve years later the John Howard Society’s west coast operations became centered in Stephenville to better service the West Coast Correctional Centre (and the planned Womens Institute which has since closed down). Over the years the John Howard Society of Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. has operated many programs and projects designed to help offenders.

History of John Howard Societies in Canada

The Canadian history of the John Howard Society began in 1867 with a group of church workers seeking to bring spiritual help to prisoners in the Toronto jail. In 1874 this small group became known as the “Prisoners Aid Association of Toronto.” They soon came to recognize that more than spiritual aid was needed by prisoners, but interest dwindled during World War I (1914-1918). In 1929 a citizens’ group led by Toronto’s Chief of Police, General Draper, reactivated their cause as the “Citizens Service Association.” Chief Draper understood that police work was undermined by the circumstances facing people upon release from prison. The Citizens Service Association – an organization of volunteers – set itself the task of providing 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. John Howard was a great prison reformer who lived from 1726 to 1790 and whose pioneering studies of the conditions of English and European prisons established the modern English-speaking prison reform movement. The John Howard Society – established to carry Howard’s mission – aided prisoners and ex-convicts in rehabilitation and re-integration following their sentence.

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 1962 the John Howard Society of Canada was formed when all provinces, except 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 - within driving distance of 10 federal penitentiaries.

Today, the John Howard Society of Canada is a federation of provincial and local societies comprised of people whose mission is “effective, just and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime.” Our 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 prison conditions, criminal law and its application.
Direct service to individuals is delivered by local branches and affiliates. The original focus of the founders of the John Howard Society was helping men released from prison. While aftercare continues to be a core service to this day, the activities of local Societies have expanded over the years. The services now include working with men in correctional facilities both federal and provincial, with people in community correctional programmes, with young offenders both in custody and in the community and, most recently, with people defined as being “at risk” of involvement in criminal activity.

Generally, the provincial/territorial Societies take primary responsibility for reform and community education activities and provide administrative support to the branches and affiliates. Activities such as communications (for example, compiling, publishing and distributing “A Directory of John Howard Programs Across Canada”) and research on federal legislation and trends in penology tend to be done by the national Society.

The John Howard Society depends on public involvement. All levels of the organization – from local to national – are governed by voluntary Boards of Directors. Volunteers are extensively involved in the direct service work of the Society. Many also support the work of the John Howard Society through donations.

Branches and affiliates provide a wide range of services and programs to young offenders including education for youth at the primary prevention level, training and employment services for youth, counseling (some specific to problems such as drug and alcohol abuse and sexual offending), literacy and/or life skills programmes for youth, supervision of young offender Community Service Orders, young offender Victim Offender Reconciliation/Restitution programmes, young offender Attendance Centre programmes, and residential programs. At the provincial/territorial and national levels, activities have included providing testimony in a professional capacity at young offender transfer hearings, preparing community education bulletins, position papers and briefs related to the issues of youth crime and young offenders and working with a coalition of organizations and individuals concerned about the welfare of children who may be at risk of coming into conflict with the law.