He held distinguished positions as a prison administrator. He was the Secretary of the Prison Commission from 1925 to 1934 and later, the Chairman of the Commission from 1942 to 1960. During his association with prison administration, he emphasised on two main considerations.
Firstly, he suggested that public should always be kept well informed about the working inside the prisons through intensive reporting and arranging frequent visits of pressmen and other social workers in prisons. With this end in view, he initiated a Prison Service Journal in 1960. Secondly, he stressed that prison administration should aim at reconciling the conflicting objectives of deterrence and reformation.
He suggested that English prison system since 1895 was modelled on the principles set out in the Gladstone Committee’s Report which underlined the need for deterrence and reformation which were the primary and concurrent objects of treatment of offenders.
Sir Lionel Fox further pointed out that the conflict between these two objectives, namely, deterrence and reformation, can only be resolved if it is accepted that “the element of deterrence in punishment lies fundamentally not in severity of punishment but in certainty of detection and punishment”. In his view, the deterrent inside the prison is to be found in the fact of imprisonment and not in the severity of the prison regime.
These objectives were effectively incorporated in the prison regulations framed under the English Criminal Justice Act, 1948. Sir Lionel Fox advocated setting up of open-prisons and as a result of his persistent efforts, the number of such open institutions was raised from one in 1942 to thirteen during his tenure as the chairman of the Prison Commission.
These included three open prisons exclusively for women. He also increased the number of borstals from one to fifteen including thirteen for boys and two for girls. Besides these institutions, he also started what he called the “Hostel System” in Bristol in 1953 for long-term prisoners.
This institution was mostly used to accommodate the preventive detenues who earned their living by taking ordinary jobs in city and returned back to the hostel after their day’s work. In 1958, the hostel system was extended to prisoners undergoing long term sentence. The working of the Hostel system was highly appreciated by the Prison Commission in its Annual Report of 1962.
There are a number of such hostels functioning in England at present, some of them being exclusively for the women prisoners. Sir Lionel Fox’s penal reforms were recognised throughout the Anglo-American world. He was also closely associated with the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission for several years.