John Keith Irwin

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John Keith Irwin (May 21, 1929 – January 3, 2010) was an American sociologist and criminologist who was known internationally as an expert on the American prison system.[1] He published dozens of scholarly articles and seven books on the topic.

Early life and education[edit]

Irwin was raised in Los Angeles. In 1952, he robbed a gas station and served a five-year prison term for armed robbery mostly at the Soledad Prison in the Salinas Valley. He finished a semester in college via correspondence. After his release he earned a bachelor's degree at the University of California, Los Angeles. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Irwin later became a professor and chaired the sociology department at San Francisco State University, where he taught for 27 years until his retirement.[2][3]


In 1967 Irwin founded Project Rebound, a program which helps those coming out of prison go to college.[3] Irwin co-founded the Prisoners Union in 1971, which organized inmates to push for their civil rights and worked closely with the California legislature on the Uniform Sentencing Act passed in 1976.[1][4] At a panel presentation at the American Society of Criminology’s annual conference in 1997, Irwin helped officially establish the Convict Criminology movement, in which convicts who became professors critically examine the criminal justice system.[2][3] In 1985 he received the August Vollmer award from the American Society of Criminology.[4]


Irwin died on January 3, 2010 at the age of 80.[1]



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