Currently, the John Howard Society in BC has 9 Regional Offices and a Provincial Office. Our history has been filled with colorful dedicated people who believed that justice and prison reform was both an individual and community obligation.
In 1920 the Vancouver Ministerial Association began to take an interest in court proceedings and in the work of the BC Penitentiary Chaplain. However, the lack of personal involvement on the part of these ministers was of concern to a young Anglican rector, Arthur Sovereign, at a meeting of the Vancouver Ministerial Association, related to his associates the nature of his work within the penitentiary.
“I have learned to love these men and have already had the opportunity and privilege of helping some who have gone into the big world to play their part. It is when they are going out into the cold and unfeeling world that there should be some form of after-care. They have innumerable problems to face and the chief ingredient needed in their lives is hope.”
It was Canon Sovereign’s passionate talk that resulted in his listeners (Vancouver Ministerial Association) to appoint a 10 person committee to look into the need for such an after-care agency. One member of the committee was the Reverend J.D. Hobden who had developed an interest in delinquency, and had been assisting with Chapel Services in the New Westminster penitentiary. At this time in Vancouver (1929), a Welfare Federation was being formed with 36 member organizations. Canon Sovereign was able to convince the chief organizer of the Federation that Vancouver needed an agency in the area of Prisoners aid.
Another vital player in this process was Warden Cooper of the BC Penitentiary, who suggested that it would be unfair to use the word “prisoner” in the title of such an agency as it would continue the label and be a constant negative reminder to its clients. Warden Cooper suggested that the name of the great English reformer (John Howard) be adopted. This name was readily accepted by Canon Sovereign as well as by the chief of the Welfare Federation J.H. Falk (whose name incidentally was John Howard Falk), and this is how the John Howard movement in Canada first got its name.
The Reverend J.D. Hobden was unanimously chosen by the Ministerial Association Committee to launch the John Howard Society, with initial funding from the Welfare Federation. Mr. Hobden was subsequently released from his pastoral work and took on the position of the first Executive Secretary of this undenominational body, quickly becoming known as the John Howard Society. It was then in the midst of the depression on May 1st, 1931 that “The John Howard Society of British Columbia” officially opened its doors to a 2 room office on Hastings Street in Vancouver.
The John Howard Society of BC (JHSBC) became officially incorporated in February, 1932. The initial focus of the society was assisting male prisoners with “after care” following their release from BC 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, 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 John Howard Society of British Columbia (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.