The Canadian history of the John Howard Society began with a group of church workers in Toronto in 1867. Their mission was to bring spiritual help to prisoners in the local jail. In 1874 this small group became known as the Prisoners Aid Association of Toronto and recognized that more than spiritual aid was needed by the prisoners. The Prisoners Aid Association of Toronto became inactive in 1915 when interest dwindled. In 1929 a citizens' group led by General Draper, the chief of Police in Toronto reactivated the association as the Citizens Service Association. General Draper believed that the work of police was undermined by the circumstances facing people on release from prison. The organization of volunteers provided practical help to ex-prisoners with housing, clothing and employment.
In 1931 Reverend J. Dinnage Hobden formed the group in British Columbia under the name of the John Howard Society. John Howard was a great prison reformer who lived from 1726 to 1790. The society aided prisoners and ex-convicts in rehabilitation and re-integration.
In 1946 the the Citizens Service Association in Ontario changed its name and became the John Howard Society of Ontario. Most other provinces formed John Howard Societies between 1947 and 1960. In February of 1962 the John Howard Society of Canada was formed when all provinces, except for Quebec, ratified a constitution. Quebec joined the John Howard Society in 1980. The Northwest Territories joined in 1994.
The John Howard Society fills an important role in public education, community service and in pressing for reform in the criminal justice area. Currently there are branches and offices in over 60 communities across Canada, provincial offices in all 10 provinces and the Northwest Territories and a national office in Kingston.