Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Influential Quakers in crime and justice in Britain from 1750 to 1950

Quakers remained concerned about prisons long after their own experiences of being imprisoned for their faith in the early days of the Society (1652–1688). Five Quakers are singled out here, though many others played their part.  William Tuke acted on his concern for mentally ill prisoners, Stephen Grellet constantly drew attention to prison conditions wherever he travelled, Elizabeth Fry did much to change prison conditions for women, William Tallach was concerned with prevention and rehabilitation, and was the first secretary of what become the Howard league for Penal Reform, and Margery Fry was very influential in securing compensation for victims of crime.

William Tuke (1732-1822) developed the concept of the asylum as a separate place for the mentally ill, in the Retreat in York, founded in 1792. This helped the cause of removing such people from prison settings. In setting up the Retreat he ensured that the treatment of the mentally ill reflected their dignity as people, in sharp contrast to the severe treatment that prevailed elsewhere.

Stephen Grellet (1773 – 1855) was born in France, but had to flee around the time of the French revolution in 1789, and arrived in New York in 1795. There he encountered the writings of William Penn, and soon after moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker. He travelled widely, and preached widely, and spoke out against injustices that he encountered. He was appalled by the conditions in many prisons. He spoke to Elizabeth Fry (and many others) about his findings, and encouraged her to visit Newgate and see for herself.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was the most famous of Quaker reformers though there were others equally influential at the time.  Reforms such as the separation of women and children from men and the development of purposeful activity of work or education came about through the example and pressure of informed people. Her work in Newgate raised public awareness of the horrors of the women’s prison. She gave evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons revealing the facts she had unearthed and outlining the principles of reform that she considered essential. Although she never saw the results of her work in raising the awareness of those in power, her work remains an inspiration to those who understand the courage called for in taking on this cause.

William Tallach (1831-1908) believed that offenders should be offered opportunities for moral education and reflection, so that they could seek salvation and forgiveness in the eyes of God. He advocated prevention and treatment of crime in addition to methods of deterrence. He pushed for teaching prisoners new skills in order to educate them in personal responsibility and moral rectitude, and believed in isolating criminals in singular cells so that they would be encouraged to repent. He believed that crime was caused by poverty, neglect, and a lack of moral education, so he attempted to eradicate this by campaigning for better schools, housing, sanitation and restrictive alcohol intake. In 1863, he became the secretary for the Society for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and in 1866 he became the first secretary of the Howard League for Penal Reform. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1901. Tallach wrote extensively. His most famous books are Defects of Criminal Administration (1872) and Penological and Preventative Principles (1889)

Margery Fry (1874-1958) became secretary of the Penal Reform League in 1918. It merged with the Howard Association in 1921 to form the Howard League for Penal Reform; she was secretary of the combined organisation until 1926. In 1921 she was appointed a magistrate, one of the first women magistrates in Britain. In 1922 she was appointed education advisor to Holloway Prison (a prison for women in London). She is also known for her opposition to the death penalty and her support of compensation for victims of crimes.

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