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 John Howard: early prison reformer

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  • As part of John Howard's role as High Sheriff of Bedford, it was his duty to inspect the county gaol. He was shocked by what he saw and began to collect evidence from around the country. His findings were published in his 1777 book entitled The State of Prisons in England and Wales. The book gave a real glimpse of the horrors of life in eighteenth century gaols, including the Gaol and House of Correction in Durham.
  • Howard recorded repeated examples of prisoners living in filthy, unhygienic and often dangerous conditions, paying their gaolers for their food and accommodation and being badly abused by the very same gaolers. He was especially appalled by the conditions that debtors (people who owed other people money but had committed no other crime) had to live in.
  • Howard recommended more space for prisoners and better food with paid gaolers (to remove the practice where prisoners had to pay fees) and the separation of male and female prisoners.
  • Howard's concern about the prison system became his life's work and he worked tirelessly to persuade the government of the need for reform of Britain's prisons.
  • It was his passion for prison reform that contributed to Howard's death. He died of gaol fever whilst inspecting prisons in Russia.

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