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John Howard

“ the quarter sessions you see prisoners, covered (hardly covered) with rags; almost famished; and sick with diseases, which the discharged spread wherever they go, and with which those who are sent to the County-Gaols infect these prisons.”

The State of Prisons in England and Wales; with Preliminary Observations on the Account of Some Foreign Prisons

John Howard was known as a great philanthropist. He would travel from prison to prison in an attempt to make the prisoners health more of a priority within the prison system. 


John Howard was born in northern England on September 2nd 1726. His mother died in 1731, five years after he was born, leaving his father to take care of him. His father sent him away to Bedfordshire, where the family owned property. 

Once John Howard has completed his schooling, he used the money he inherited from his father, who died in 1742, to travel Europe. He left on his journey in 1748. After he returned to England from travelling, he found accommodations with a middle aged woman named Sarah Loidore, who made a living off of renting lodgings. During his stay on the lady's property, John Howard became horribly sick and was nursed back to health by Sarah. Being unable to think of a suitable way to repay her, he married her. Unfortunately, his wife died a few years later. 

While on his way to Portugal, John Howard was captured by French privateers and taken to Brest, France.  He was not given any food or water during the two days it took to get to Brest. While at Brest, he was kept in poor living conditions, and had nothing to sleep on but a pile of straw. After a few days in Brest, he was transferred to Morlaix, an area on the northern coast of France. The living conditions of the prisoners were no better in Morlaix than in Brest. The poor living conditions led to the deaths of many prisoners. John Howard's freedom was exchanged for that of a French man who was captured by the English. 

Sometime after returning to England, John Howard married his second wife, Henrietta Leeds, in Bedfordshire. Henrietta died several days after giving birth to her and John's son. 

In the year of 1773, John Howard was made High Sheriff of Bedford. After he was appointed as High Sheriff, he took the time to personally inspect the prison. He found that the prisoners were kept in poor living conditions, similar to those in which he was kept in during his imprisonment in France. He also noted that a number of prisoners were detained significantly longer than their sentence required as the prisoner could not pay the jailer's fee. After seeing the state of his local prison, John Howard travelled across England visiting a number of prisons and houses of corrections to evaluate the conditions in which the prisoners were kept. He found that the poor living conditions the prisoners were kept in were universal among the prisons of England. 

In March of 1774, John Howard was called to the House of Commons where he was thanked for his work in inspecting prisons. As an acknowledgement of his work, a couple of laws were passed. The laws focused on maintaining the health of the prisoners and making sure that prisoners were released once their sentence was completed. 

With his success in improving the quality of life for prisoners, John Howard toured the prisons of Ireland and Scotland. After his tour, he wrote and published "The State of Prisons in England and Wales; with Preliminary Observations on the Account of Some Foreign Prisons." 

He continued touring the prisons of other places in Europe such as Prussia, Austria, Italy, and some German Cities. He recorded what he observed during his travels and published a second edition of his book in the year of 1780. 

On January 10th, 1790, John Howard contracted a disease from a prisoner in a jail he was inspecting. After fighting the sickness for ten days, John Howard succumbed to the illness and died on January 20th, 1790 in Ukraine at the age of 65. 

Information from Anecdotes of the life and character of John Howard, Esq. F. R. S. Written by a gentleman, whose Acquaintance with that Celebrated Philanthropist Gave Him the Most Favourable Opportunity of Learning Particulars Not Generally Known.

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