The John Howard Society - Thompson Region is currently working with the provincial government and BC Housing to bring another subsidized housing complex to Kamloops. Skyview Ridge located at 275 West Columbia Street will start construction in the near future. This complex will provide 44 one bedroom suites for low income single individuals.
The John Howard Society of B.C. (JHSBC) became officially incorporated in February, 1932. The initial focus of the society was assisting male prisoners worth “after care” following their release from B.C. Penitentiary and Oakalla Prison Farm.
A second John Howard Society began in 1935 in Victoria. Expansion of service outside Vancouver and Victoria took place in the 1950’s with groups of volunteers in New Westminster, Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, and Prince George, and on the Island in Nanaimo and Campbell River. Branches were eventually established in all of these communities except New Westminster and Penticton. Expansion was also taking place across Canada during this same time.
In 1961 JHSBC joined the association of the John Howard Society of Canada. The John Howard Society of Vancouver Island remained a separate entity from JHSBC until amalgamation in 1983. The Regional Branches became Regional Societies in 1989 due to a “decentralized re-organization”. The John Howard Society of Canada and JHSBC provide a supportive function to the Regional Societies.
The Kamloops story has roots back as early as 1933, when J.D. Hobden (then Executive Secretary of JHSBC) speaking to the Kamloops Rotary Club on the work of the John Howard Society made the following comment:
Frankly, your city jail is sordid, dreary and dingy. The cells are of the semi-dungeon type.
How on earth are men to look up and gain back their self-respect in such surroundings?
It cannot be done……Kamloops jail in 1933 is a long way behind the standards of John
Howard in 1773”
(Wilton, pg. 192)
J.D. Hobden no doubt ruffled a few feathers with the above speech yet he must have also earned respect. In 1944 he received a letter from the Kamloops City Clerk asking for his opinion on the plans for a new jail. In 1957, the first local volunteer committee of the John Howard Society was formed in Kamloops. One of the particular interests of this group was the provision of services to the Clearwater Forestry Camp (renamed Bear Creek Camp).
In 1961, Bill Hesketh from the Vancouver office became the Okanagan Mainline Field Representative of the John Howard Society of B.C. This position involved working in the areas of Kamloops, Penticton, and Revelstoke. This was a pioneer project, making professional service available to organized groups of volunteers. In the late 1960’s the Kamloops branch hired its first staff, the Rev. Katsumo. This was a part-time position with the Rev. Katsumo splitting his time between John Howard Society and the Baptist Church. He eventually returned to full-time involvement with the church relocated to Vancouver. Interestingly, the president of the Kamloops John Howard Society during the 1960’s was Julian Fry, a descendant of Elizabeth Fry (E. Fry is in a sense the sister organization of John Howard Society). In the 1970’s the president of the board was also involved with the board of the Kiwanis House Society. Resulting from this connection, space was provided in the Kiwanis House for the John Howard Society office. The staff position turned over several times during the 1970’s.
In the late 1970’s Keith Gagne’ assumed the staff position and eventually saw the office relocate downtown to 4th Avenue. Following Mr. Gagne’s retirement and replacement in the late 1980’s the society experienced management difficulties and closed its doors in May 1990 until March 1991. During this closure, clients and general inquires were referred to the Vernon John Howard Society. Then in March of 1991 Ollie Forsyth was hired as Executive Director and re-established the John Howard Society presence and credibility with-in the region. In August of 1992 the first Kamloops store front office was opened on Lansdowne Street. The staff and services of the John Howard Society continued to expand. Mr. Forsyth left the agency in 1996. Annitta Unger took over the helm as the new Executive Director for a short time in 1996. Ms. Unger returned to Vancouver in December 1996. Dawn Hrycun the present Executive Director was hired in January 1997. The degree of exposure and services the John Howard Society provides in the community continue to stay true to the vision held by John Howard, but adjusting to the society in which we live.
How John Howard Society Began
John Howard was born in England in 1726, and while England remained his home base, he traveled extensively throughout his life; he died in 1790. Before John Howard reached 29 years of age, his father, mother and wife had passed away. Through these combined unfortunate circumstances, John Howard had little in the way of familial ties yet a significant financial legacy left by his father. A man of great conscience, John Howard was in essence a young man in search of something he could look upon as his duty.
It was then in late 1755, that he heard of news of a devastating earthquake in Portugal; and using a portion of his legacy he decided to set out by merchant ship to assist the quake victims. . The ship on which he was travelling was however overtaken by the French as this trip coincided with the beginning of the Seven Year’s War (between England and France). John Howard then became a prisoner of war and experienced firsthand the revolting conditions of a French dungeon.
He was later released to England on a form of parole, and provided information to authorities that eventually resulted in the release of some of his fellow surviving prisoners. Many years later John Howard stated that, if it had not been for the sufferings he had personally endured and witnessed, he would not have spent some seventeen years of his life trying to alleviate the miserable situation of prisoners.
The seventeen year chapter of John Howard’s life and work that we base our societies name and philosophy on essentially began in 1773 with his appointment as High Sheriff of Bedford. John Howard used this appointment in a unique way, he began investigating and documenting the inhumane conditions and policies of prisons in England and much of Europe. On his visits to the Bedford jail he was shocked by the stench, filth, starvation and the incidence of jail fever and small pox. He cringed at the spiked collars and chains worn by a number of the felons, and at the general treatment the prisoners received by the jail-keepers.
These conditions galvanized John Howard into pressing for parliamentary action. He produced detailed reports to the legislature which resulted in bills being passed to improve the conditions of all jails throughout the United Kingdom.
John Howard, fully aware of how slow public opinion would change, recorded his findings along with practical recommendations, in a book entitled, “State of Prisons in England and Wales with Preliminary Observations and an Account of some foreign Prisons, 1777”. Two years later the Penitentiary Act was passed John Howard became the member of the First Penitentiary Commission. However by 1781 he resigned from the Commission through sheer discouragement, feeling that very little reform had been accomplished How distressed he would have been if he had realized that 70 more years would pass before the implementation of any section of the Penitentiary Act.
John Howard continued his visits to prisons in other countries, and wherever he went, he was admired for his courage in speaking out boldly about shocking conditions. With fearlessness and determination he made his last trip to Europe with full knowledge of the rampant typhus plague, and how prison conditions had aggravated the plague. By that time the benefit of his labor was already being felt throughout Europe. His activities and reports inspired the House of Commons to pass laws aimed at the eradication of conditions which Howard brought to light. His writings encouraged practices that brought prison systems several steps closer to becoming humanitarian and more effective.
The issues that John Howard advocated for on behalf of prisoners included; medical care, the provision of food, that jailers not be allowed to profit from their prisoners, that prisoners be released when so ordered by the courts and not required to pay a fee for the privilege, that the young be separated from the old hardened prisoners, that separate general specific accommodations be provided, and that work and activity be allowed.
For those unmanageable prisoners, he urged punishment by solitary confinement and bread and water diet, rather than torture or physical punishment.
It was his factual documentation and his recommendations that inspired governments of several European countries to restructure their penal system. This meant that humane conditions would eventually become the right of all people who were incarcerated.
We have inherited the legacy of John Howard, although we use different methods for these different times. The John Howard Society was formed in recognition of John Howard, and continues to work toward improving the conditions within penal systems, A great deal of work today is also in the area of “after-care”, which is assisting ex-offenders in the community.