Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Memoriam: John Irwin

One of the first reformed criminals to play a major role in developing public policy around criminal reformation through his books and advocacy, passed away January 3rd.

I have been reading his books for over 30 years and his work and influence will be sorely missed by the criminal justice community.

Our prayers are with his family.

Here is an excerpt from the Sentencing Project whose board of directors he was part of.

“The Sentencing Project joins the criminal justice reform community in mourning the loss of our board member, friend and colleague, John Irwin, who died on January 3rd in San Francisco at the age of 80. John Irwin was proud to be a "convict criminologist" and advocate for social justice.


“Irwin's path to academia was hardly typical, beginning with a five-year prison term for armed robbery in 1952 in Soledad Prison. During his time in prison he earned 24 college credits through a university extension program, the kind of programming that he would later note had been all but eliminated in most prison systems today. Upon his release he received a B.A. from UCLA and then earned his Ph. D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. He then was offered a faculty position at San Francisco State University, where he taught for 27 years before his retirement.


“Throughout his career John combined a passion for scholarship with engagement for social justice. The author of six highly-regarded books analyzing the institutions of the criminal justice system, his insights in such works as "The Felon" and "The Jail" provided cogent analyses of the interaction between the structure of the justice system and the individuals processed through that system. His research and writing examined aspects of the system that were often not popular to take on, such as his last book, "Lifers: The Long Road to Redemption," based on his lengthy interviews with people serving life sentences in a California prison.”