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The John Howard Society (JHS) of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia takes its name and its spirit from the 18th century prison reformer who throughout his life demonstrated his firm belief that every citizen must ultimately accept his or her individual responsibility for the criminal justice system. The society began as the John Howard Society of British Columbia, established in Vancouver in 1931. It was the first John Howard Society in Canada. The objects of the Society as outlined in its Constitution (1932) were to seek to remove conditions which lead persons into crime; to befriend the first offender; to work for the wise and just treatment of those confirmed to penal institutions; to guide and help the mothers, wives and children of men in prison; to help discharged and paroled men and women to re-establish themselves; and to work for wise and just legislation with reference to court procedures and penal administration.
The Society has grown so that in 1995 the Society has over 50 offices across Canada with a national office in Ottawa.
The Society is still in operation, assisting inmates and released offenders to overcome the hardship of a prison record primarily through counseling, emergency relief, employment assistance, housing and referrals to other organizations.
The professional staff of the Society are responsible for visiting regularly or being on-call to various correctional facilities throughout British Columbia. These include prisons, forest camps, community correctional centres and half-way houses. Staff offer counseling, advocacy, pre-release planning, educational guidance and develop self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and the Seventh Step Society. Staff also assist clients in the courts offering pre-sentence intervention, alternatives to incarceration, and counseling. In addition, family members are supported by the Society in acquiring life skills and attending community development programs.
The Society is also involved in parole, probation, bail supervision and community assessments, lessening the demands on existing facilities. In the area of education, the Society provides speakers for service clubs, churches and community groups desiring information about the criminal justice system and for furthering the cause of penal reform. In the area of advocacy, the Society's staff has been involved in preparing briefs and papers and corresponding with Government officials and others in an attempt to monitor the criminal justice system and encourage alternatives.
Organizationally, the John Howard Society of BC and the Vancouver Office of the JHS operated under the same roof and had the same executive director until 1983 when the provincial office was removed to Victoria, physically separated from any local branch office. At that time the JHS of BC and the JHS of Vancouver Island were amalgamated. The Vancouver office became the John Howard Society of the Lower Mainland of BC. There are still several other branch offices located around the province.