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Elizabeth Fry - Prison Reformer
Elizabeth Fry - Prison Reformer

There were a number of influential people who had an impact on both the severity of sentences and the way prisons were run.
John Howard

John Howard of Bedford (1726 - 1790) was an important and influential prison reformer. He was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, from 1773 until his death, and responsible for law and order in the county. In 1777 he published his book, "The State of the Prisons", based on the study he had made of prison conditions on tours of Britain and Europe.

Howard believed that prisoners would not change their ways unless they were given a reasonable standard of living. He said they should be allowed to keep clean, given fresh food and water and given work to do that would keep them occupied. They should be given Christian teaching and be made to attend chapel regularly. At night they should each have their own cell, so that they could repent of their crimes in privacy. Howard's ideas were carried out when the first "penitentiaries" were built, but were made much stricter than he had intended.

Sir George Onesiporous Paul

Sir George Onesiporous Paul built a model new prison at Gloucester in 1780, based on the ideas of John Howard. It was secure, well-built, healthy, separated men, women and children. The rules ensured that prisoners wore uniform, were taught to read and write, were reasonably fed and cared for if ill. It also saw the first segregation of prisoners, with minor offenders being held in a house of correction and more hardened criminals sent to the penitentiary on site.

Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker from Norwich, worked to improve the lives of women in prison. She worked especially in Newgate Gaol in London, giving the women decent clothes and useful work. She set up a school to teach them and their children to read, and provided Bibles for them. Later, she introduced supervision by matrons. In 1817, Elizabeth Fry and eleven other Quakers formed the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. She gave evidence to the House of Commons about conditions in prison, using evidence from her tour of British prisons. Her evidence influenced Sir Robert Peel to reform prison conditions in 1823. Elizabeth Fry also campaigned against capital punishment.