Norval Morris, one of the world’s most distinguished criminologists and a former dean of the University of Chicago Law School, has died in Chicago at 80. He had been in ill health in recent years. Morris was the law school’s emeritus Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology.
Morris was best known for his work on prison and sentencing. His most recent book was “Maconochie’s Gentlemen: The Story of Norfolk Island and the Roots of Modern Prison Reform.” (Oxford University Press, 2001). He earlier wrote “The Oxford History of the Prison” and, with Michael Tonry, “Between Prison and Probation: Intermediate Punishments in a Rational Sentencing System.” A notable early book, written with Gordon Hawkins, was 1970’s “The Honest Politician’s Guide to Crime Control.”
Morris was a critic of the government policymaking on criminal justice and the role of the news media. “False political promises and the sensationalism of the media drive out rational policy,” he told a forum sponsored by the U.S. Justice Department in 1997. He added: “Safer societies are not built on capital punishemnt, mandatory minimum punishments, three-strikes rules, and fierce drug policies that every informed observer knows to be misguided.” Morris concluded that policymakers should “enact sensible and enforceable laws about guns, drugs, and the punishment of crime. Learn from such responsible studies as have been done and from the experience of other countries.”
Morris also was active in policing issues, serving as a member of Chicago’s police board from 1979 to 1987. He was an authority on mental illness and crime, writing the book “Madness and the Criminal Law,” and serving on two Illinois commissions on revising the mental health code.
A native of New Zealand, Morris was educated at London University and Melbourne University in Australia. He joined the University of Chicago Law School faculty in 1964, serving as director of school’s Center for Studies in Criminal Justice between 1965 and 1975.