RIP John Irwin, Convict Criminologist
Oxford University Press has posted this remembrance of John Irwin (1929-2010), a long-time sociology professor at San Francisco State University and a founder of the convict criminology school, “which examined imprisonment from the perspective of the academically-trained convict.” Irwin’s books include The Felon, The Warehouse Prison, and most recently, Lifers, which was reviewed here by the California Corrections Crisis blog. Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle ran this obituary of the noted “criminal turned criminologist.”
To be sure, Irwin’s story is an exceptional one. Nonetheless, in reading the inspiring story of how he turned his life around after a five-year prison term for armed robbery, going on to earn a B.A. from UCLA and a Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley, I couldn’t help but wonder how many ex-prisoners might have made similar strides had states spent recent decades expanding, rather than gutting, educational, rehabilitative, and reentry programs. It’s especially poignant that Irwin was educated at the flagship institutions of the University of California, and spent his career teaching at another California state university — given that the Golden State, whose higher education system was once the envy of the nation, now funnels more of its budget to its prisons than to its cash-strapped schools.