- 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.
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.
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.
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
- It was
his passion for prison reform that contributed to Howard's death. He
died of gaol fever whilst inspecting prisons in Russia.