Famous prison reformers

You may have heard of the prison reform work of the country music superstar Johnny Cash, but have you heard of some of these people who also fought for prisoners’ rights?

(Photo: The Telegraph)

(Photo: The Telegraph)

Valery Abramkin

The famous Russian activist and former nuclear scientist died early January 2013 aged 66. Having spent time as a political prisoner himself and contracted TB while incarcerated, Abramkin established the Prison and Liberty Group, an organisation which fought for prisoners’ rights and prison reform in 1988. One of the organisation’s slogans was taken from Dostoevsky: “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Read more from Open Democracy.

(Photo: Project Gutenberg)

(Image: Project Gutenberg)

Elizabeth Fry

The “Angel of Prisons”, as she came to be known, became interested in the welfare of the poor, the sick and prisoners after hearing sermons by the Quaker preacher William Savery. Her prison reform work began in earnest when a family friend encouraged her to visit Newgate Prison in London. In 1816 (by then a mother of 10; she had another child six years later) founded a prison school for children who were imprisoned with their parents. In 1817 she helped to start an association which eventualy led to the creation of the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, She has appeared on the UK’s 5-pound note since 2001.  Read more from Wikipedia.

(Image: Mather Brown)

(Image: Mather Brown)

John Howard

Britain’s biggest prison reform organisation, the Howard League for Penal Reform, is named after this famous 18th century High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, who was known to just show up unannounced and knock on prison doors, a practice which is apparently still used by the UK’s chief inspector of prisons. Howard wrote an important book, The State of the Prisons (1777) and concluded that 18th-century prisons were “filthy, corrupt-ridden and unhealthy”. Read more from Wikipedia.

(Photo: Ted.com)

(Photo: Ted.com)

Alexander McLean

Alexander McLean is the director general of the African Prisons Project (APP), a justice charity he started when he was just 19. Before studying law at Nottingham University, he spent his gap year in 2004 at a hospice in Uganda, where he started visited prisoners in hospital.  Eventually he started visiting prisons as well. The bad conditions there inspired him to start APP. During his first year at university, her raised funds to refurbish the sick bay in Luzira women’s prison. He also got donations and started a library in Luzira men’s prison. Read more from the Telegraph and watch some African Prisons Projects videos on the ted.com  website.



About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

One Response to Famous prison reformers

  1. Cheers, thank you for writing this 🙂

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