John Irwin, Criminologist 1929-2010

ISA deeply regrets the loss of Dr. John Irwin, Criminologist. 1930-2010

John Irwin, a uniquely San Francisco raconteur who proudly referred to himself as a rogue, died January 3, 2010, at the age of 80. Known internationally as an expert on the American prison system, John began his journey from criminal to criminologist by dabbling in “the life” as a young adult- resulting in a five year sentence in Soledad prison during the 1950s.

John was often called the Horatio Alger of ex-convicts. After his release from prison he earned a BA in sociology from UCLA and a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. His dissertation, “The Felon,” published in 1970, became a classic in the field of criminology. John became a professor of sociology at San Francisco State University in 1967, where he taught for 27 years. There he founded Project Rebound, a degree program for ex-offenders.

During his career, Dr. Irwin, known as a “radical criminologist,” was a prolific writer who published dozens of scholarly articles and seven books, including “The Struggle for Justice,” “Prisons in Turmoil,” “The Jail,” “The Warehouse Prison,” “It’s about Time,” and “Lifers.”

Combining academics with activism, John founded the Prisoners’ Union, one of the first organizations dedicated to prisoners’ civil rights, in 1971. He served on numerous boards of directors for organizations dedicated to criminal justice policy and rehabilitation, including the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C. and Walden House in San Francisco.

John’s interests and talents were diverse. He was a Renaissance man who liked to think of himself as a Bohemian; a surfer, skier, and cyclist; an avid reader, jazz fan, and furniture maker.

Most of all, John Irwin loved his family: daughters Jeanette, Katy and Anne, son Johnny, and wife of 38 years-Marsha Rosenbaum.

A celebration of John’s life will be held on Friday, January 8, 2010, at 4:00 PM at the Golden Gate Club, 135 Fisher Loop, The Presidio, San Francisco.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in John’s memory can be made to:

JK Irwin Foundation
2233 Lombard Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

See also: Criminal turned criminologist John Irwin dies. San Francisco Chronicle. January 7, 2010.

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