Our History

JHA was founded in Illinois in 1901 as the Central Howard Association. In 1946, the organization changed its name to John Howard Association after John Howard, an 18th century Englishman who was one of the first prison reformers.

JHA is independent, not-for-profit and non-partisan. We are the only citizen correctional oversight organization in the state and one of only three such organizations in the United States. JHA goes into every prison in Illinois, adult and juvenile, to monitor conditions or confinement and treatment of incarcerated people and to bring this information out to the public.

While the role JHA has played as watchdog has evolved and changed over the years, we continue to be the eyes and ears of the public inside Illinois prisons, which is something that Illinois stakeholders identified early and continue to believe is critical to have inside our prison system. JHA uses our access to and knowledge of prisons and the specific issues and concerns inside our penal institutions to advocate for change and make Illinois prisons more humane, safe and rehabilitative.

JHA underwent a rebranding process in 2019. Our former logo is shown above.

JHA underwent a rebranding process in 2019. Our former logo is shown above.

History of John Howard, father of prison reform

John Howard (1726-1790) was an 18th century humanitarian from England who is largely considered to be the father of prison reform.    

In 1773, John Howard was named High Sheriff of Bedfordshire. After inquiring into the state of the prisons under his charge, he was shocked at the cruelties and abuses he found.  This, combined with his own brief experience as a prisoner of war during a tour of Portugal in 1756, served as motivation for what would be his life's work in prison reform.  After having visited several hundred prisons across England, Scotland, Wales and wider Europe, Howard published the first edition (of three) 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. It is this work that has been credited as establishing the practice of single-celling in the United Kingdom and, by extension, in the United States. His work focused on many of the issues we continue to work on today, including: prison systems, providing sanitary and hygienic living conditions, adequate medical care, and opportunity for meaningful work.

Although unrelated to JHA of Illinois, several other prison reform organizations also utilize John Howard's name: