John Howard’s Institutional Namesakes

face of a prisoner

Long after his death in 1790, John Howard has been memorialized in the names of civic organizations. In 1872, an account of John Howard declared:

The name of Howard has become the synonym of philanthropy. It is more widely known, and known with more unqualified praise and honour, than any private name in modern history. Hundreds of associations for charity and beneficence have chosen it for their title.^

Civic associations depend on voluntary contributions. Being associated with a well-known and philanthropically honored name helps them to inspire contributions.

Early charitable organizations that headlined Howard served a variety of purposes. For example the “Howard Benevolent Society” was formed in Boston in 1812 to aid the destitute sick.^ The Howard Association established in Norfolk, Virginia in 1855 responded to a yellow-fever epidemic. These organizations associated Howard with serving persons in desperate circumstances. The New Jersey Howard Association, formed in 1833, concerned prisoners, pauperism, and preventing crime:

The chief object of this Society shall be to alleviate the sufferings, and reform the character, of prisoners and paupers, and prevent crime and pauperism in New Jersey.^

The connection between prisoners and pauperism appears to have been primarily imprisonment for debt. The New Jersey Howard Association apparently did not endure long. In 1849, the New Jersey Prison Reform Association was created.^

The Howard League for Penal Reform had endured as a Howard-named institution. Its predecessor, the Howard Association, formed in London in 1866 . It focused on “means of penal treatment and crime prevention.” William Tallack served as the Howard Association’s Secretary from its founding until 1901. Tallack, a Quaker, was a zealous proponent of the separate system for suppressing prisoners’ communication.^ In 1921, the Howard Association merged with the Penal Reform League to become the Howard League for Penal Reform. It continues to the present as a organization focused on “less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison.”

Other institutions similar to the London-based Howard league were established across the world. A Howard League was established in New Zealand in 1924. The John Howard Association of Illinois was established in 1901 to oversee Illinois state correctional institutions. In 1931, the John Howard Society was founded in British Columbia, Canada. The John Howard Society gradually extended to other Canadian provinces, with most covered by 1960. All of these organizations focus on providing expert knowledge on criminal justice issues.

Title changes show changes in public discourse concerning penal policy. When the Howard League for Penal Reform was formed in London in 1921, that organization also established The Howard Journal, “a review of modern methods for the prevention and treatment of crime and juvenile delinquency.” In 1965, that journal was renamed The Howard Journal of Penology and Crime Prevention. In 1984, it was rename The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. John Howard was a proto-social scientist who created public knowledge about prison conditions. The shift from penology and crime prevention to criminal justice reflects declining confidence in social science.

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