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John Howard

1726-1790. Prison reformer. Born in Hackney, after a short period as apprentice to a grocer he came into a modest inheritance in 1742 and traveled in Europe. After one trip to Portugal his boat was captured by a privateer on the return journey, and he was imprisoned in France. This may have set his mind moving in the direction which was to be his life- work. In 1758 he settled in Bedfordshire, where he built model cottages, promoted educational experiments, and developed rural industry. Following the death of his second wife, he traveled again through Europe, and on his return in 1773 was made high sheriff of Bedfordshire. Thereafter he devoted his time and strength and a good part of his fortune to the reform of conditions in prisons in England and in Europe.

There were many abuses-for example, jailers in England received fees rather than a salary, and this led to extortion and corruption. Howard visited all the county jails, and he promoted parliamentary bills designed to reform conditions. He then toured jails throughout England and published his book, State of the Prisons (1777), which caused great concern. Further travels in Europe were followed by another act of Parliament in 1779. In 1782 he made a third general inspection of English prisons, and then a tour of Europe, giving special attention to the lazarettos, particularly in Italy and the Near East, which were designed for the control of infectious diseases. He himself was put in one when he was in quarantine in Venice. He publicized the terrible conditions in such institutions and agitated for reform. In 1789 he took his last journey, which led him to Prussia and Poland and on into Russia; there he caught camp fever from a woman in the course of his researches, and died. Howard was a very earnest evangelical Christian, a teetotaler and a vegetarian, whose life was devoted to the cause of prison reform.

See biographies by D.L. Howard (1958) and M. Southwood (1959).