John Howard 1789
Public DomainJohn Howard 1789 - Credit: Mather Brown

John Howard (1726 - 1790) was a philanthropist and the first English prison reformer. 

In 1773, he was appointed High Sheriff of Bedfordshire.  In this role he personally inspected the county prison, and was shocked by what he found.  He went on to visit several hundred prisons throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Europe.  In 1774 he was called to give evidence on prison conditions to a House of Commons select committee.  The committee members publicly thanked him for his 'humanity and zeal'.

He published The State of the Prisons in 1777, which included detailed instructions on necessary improvements. The work is credited with the establishment of single cell prisons in the UK and the US.  In 1789 he published The State of the Prisons in England, and An Account of the Principal Lazarettos of Europe

He died at the age of 63, from typhus contracted during a prison visit in Eastern Europe.  

In the 1850s, almost eighty years after his death, the Howard Association was formed in London, with the aim of "promotion of the most efficient means of penal treatment and crime prevention" and to promote "a reformatory and radically preventive treatment of offenders".