John Howard was appointed High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773, initially for a one-year period. Such was his dedication, rather than delegating his duties to the under-sheriff as was customary, Howard inspected the county prison himself. He was shocked by what he found, and spurred into action to inspect prisons throughout England. Of particular concern to Howard were those prisoners who were held because they could not pay the jailer’s fee – an amount paid to the owner or keeper of the prison for upkeep. He took this issue to parliament, and in 1774 Howard was called to give evidence on prison conditions to a House of Commons select committee. Members of that committee were so impressed that, unusually, Howard was called to the bar of the House of Commons and publicly thanked for his ‘humanity and zeal’. Prison reform dealt with improving health conditions and abolishing jailors’ fees.
Having visited several hundred prisons across England, Scotland, Wales and wider Europe, Howard published the first edition of The State of the Prisons in 1777. It included very detailed accounts of the prisons he had visited, including plans and maps, together with detailed instructions on the necessary improvements.
- Michael Sherman; Gordon J. Hawkins (1983). Imprisonment in America: Choosing the Future. University of Chicago Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN0-226-75280-1.
- Newman G, Brown E (1997) Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837: An Encyclopedia