John Irwin remade his life after when he got out of Soledad Prison in 1957 after a five-year stretch for armed robbery. And over the ensuing 50 years, he became one of the nation’s foremost advocates for compassionate reform of the prison system, the author of six heralded books dissecting criminal justice, and a sociology professor at San Francisco State University, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Irwin died at age 80 at his San Francisco home of liver and kidney failure last week.
In 1967, after he began teaching at S.F. State, Irwin founded Project Rebound, a program on the campus that helps those coming out of prison go to college. Over the following decades, he co-founded the now-defunct Prisoners Union, which organized inmates to push for their civil rights, as well as the Convict Criminology movement, in which convicts who became professors critically examine the criminal justice system. He was also on the board of directors of the Sentencing Project, the national organization that advocates prison reform and alternatives to incarceration.