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Feb. 24, 2004 Press Contact: Sabrina Miller
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Norval Morris, Professor of Law, noted criminologist and advocate for criminal justice reform, 1923-2004

    Norval Morris


Norval Morris, Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology Emeritus, former Dean of the University of Chicago Law School (1975-78), and founding director of the Law School’s Center for Studies in Criminal Justice, died Feb. 21 in Mercy Hospital in Chicago at the age of 80. Morris was an internationally recognized expert on the criminal justice system and prison reform. He had been a member of the Law School faculty since 1964 and was a resident of the Hyde Park neighborhood near the campus.

“Norval Morris was the preeminent criminal law theorist of his generation,” said John Monahan, Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation Professor of Law, Class of 1941 Research Professor, and Professor of Psychology & Legal Medicine at the University of Virginia Law School. “He was also the most big-hearted, generous colleague anyone ever had. An entire cohort of criminal lawyers and criminologists can aptly and proudly be called the children of Norval.”

Morris, regarded as among the most influential writers in the field of criminal justice, was the author, co-author or editor of 15 books and hundreds of articles during his 55-year academic career. His most recent books were Machonochie’s Gentlemen: The Story of Norfolk Island and the Roots of Modern Prison Reform (2003); The Oxford History of the Prison (1995) with David Rothman; The Brothel Boy and Other Parables of the Law (1992); Between Prison and Probation: Intermediate Punishments in a Rational Sentencing System (1990) with Michael Tonry; and Madness and the Criminal Law (1982).

“Norval was our good friend, our colleague and an extraordinary human being, and we are all the better to have had him in our lives,” said Saul Levmore, Dean of the Law School and the William B. Graham Professor of Law.

Morris’ 1974 Cooley Lecture at the University of Michigan offered a scholarly vision of prison reform and described how an ideal prison for serious offenders might be structured. His proposal was implemented shortly thereafter by the Federal Bureau of Prisons at a new penitentiary at Butner, N.C., and other facilities, and remains a model for humane confinement.

“With Norval Morris’ passing, incarcerated individuals around the world lost a friend and a powerful advocate,” said James Coldren, president of the John Howard Association, a prison reform organization based in Chicago. Morris had served on the Board of Directors and the Advisory Council for 20 years. “He appealed to the humanity in everyone, including both the jailed and the jailers. There is no way to tally the immense positive impact he had on so many lives.”

Morris’ University of Chicago colleague and criminal justice scholar Albert Alschuler, the Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology, said Morris’ 1990 book with Tonry, Between Prison and Probation: Intermediate Punishments in a Rational Sentencing System, is “perhaps the most cited scholarly work in criminal justice.” “Norval inspired me and his many disciples in things personal and professional,” Alschuler added. “He was who all of us wanted to be, and he made us better than we would have been without his care and shaping. Yet none of us —and no one we knew— came close to matching his extraordinary combination of energy, wit, insight, wisdom, adventure, generosity, compassion, dedication and loving spirit.”

Though Morris had impeccable credentials as a legal scholar, he was equally adept in fiction writing. In the 1950s, Morris had served as chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Capital Punishment in Ceylon, and he used this experience to create The Brothel Boy & Other Parables of the Law. In the book, he fictionally reconstructed a period in the life of Eric Blair (the real name of author George Orwell) when Blair had been a Burmese policeman and magistrate, and Morris used this as a vehicle to examine a range of ethical and legal issues. His final book, Machonochie’s Gentlemen: The Story of Norfolk Island and the Roots of Modern Prison Reform, combines fictionalized history and critical commentary to tell the story of a retired naval captain’s four-year transformation of a brutal British penal colony into a model of enlightened reform. Both books were widely praised.

His frequent scholarly collaborator, Professor Michael Tonry, Director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, noted, “many gifted people, of whom Norval Morris was one, are generous. Not so many are genuinely modest, as he was. During the last 20 years of his life, he often said, and seemed (albeit mistakenly) to believe, that people whose careers he helped make and shape had surpassed him. He said this with a sense of joy, not sadness, in a mood of celebration, not regret. I am but one of many people whose private and public lives are different and better than they would have been had we not been fortunate to come under his influence.”

Another intellectual protégé, Frank Zimring, the William G. Simon Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, said, “Norval Morris was a major scholar of the criminal law, an important institution builder in law and criminology in three nations, and the main mentor of a whole generation of currently prominent scholars in the United States. In this sense, he lived three lives, and lived each of them with enthusiasm and style.”

Morris was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1923. Following service in the Australian army in World War II, he completed LL.B. and LL.M. degrees at the University of Melbourne. In 1949, he received a Ph.D. in law and criminology and was appointed to the Faculty of Law at the London School of Economics. Subsequently he practiced law as a barrister in Australia and held academic appointments at the University of Adelaide, where he was the Bonython Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law (1958-62) and at the University of Melbourne, in the Department of Criminology, where he was Secretary and Foundation Member (1951-58) and Associate Professor of Criminology (1955-58) as well as Senior Lecturer in Law (1950-58). He later taught in the United States at Harvard University, the University of Utah, the University of Colorado and New York University. In 1962-64, he was founding director of the United Nations Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (Asia and Far East), and for his service, the Japanese government awarded him the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure, Third Class.

When Morris stepped down from his academic career at the University of Chicago Law School in 1994 and took emeritus status, he volunteered to join its clinical programs, where he worked as a consultant and advisor until his death. “In this capacity, Norval continued to help us teach law students how to be effective advocates for persons in institutions,” said Mark Heyrman, Faculty Director for Clinical Programs of the Arthur O. Kane Center for Clinical Legal Education at the University of Chicago Law School. “He was completely committed to using the law to make the world a better place, particularly for persons in prisons and in mental hospitals, and generations of lawyers and scholars on at least three continents are in his debt.”

“Like a lot of others, I felt particularly close and indebted to Norval,” said Randolph Stone, Clinical Professor of Law and former public defender of Cook County, Illinois. “In spite of being a towering intellect and of gigantic academic stature, he retained the common touch, the ability to make a connection.”

Morris was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, a Fellow of the American Society of Criminology, and a board member of the Chicago Bar Foundation from 1982 to 1988, among many professional affiliations, and he had received numerous honors and honorary degrees. He also was a chairman of the board and board member of the National Institute of Corrections, and throughout his career was invited to participate on national and international bodies related to crime, violence, the rights of prisoners, prisoner rehabilitation, delinquency, policing, and other areas of criminal justice and public policy, including service on the Police Board of the City of Chicago from 1979 to 1987.

“For all his wonderful gifts—his brilliance, his wit—his greatest quality was his capacity for friendship,” said Locke Bowman, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School. “He was a wonderful friend. And he shared this gift with all kinds of people: world leaders, aspiring scholars, lawyers and activists all over Chicago and the world, and, of course, with lonely prisoners. I cannot imagine the world without him in it.”

As dedicated and accomplished as he was in his academic career and in his advocacy for prison reform, Morris was at various times in his life also the publisher of a small weekly newspaper in Maine; a fierce amateur tennis player; a private pilot; a lifelong devotee of chess, with playing partners around the world; and a participant in entrepreneurial ventures.

Professor Bernard Harcourt, who met Morris for the first time when Harcourt joined the University of Chicago law faculty last year, said Morris “was amazing—he had become my mentor in 12 months. He was so warm and generous with me. He really made me feel like a son.”

Abner Mikva, a Law School colleague and former Federal Judge, Presidential Counsel and U.S. Congressman, who had known Morris for 40 years, said, “I have never met anyone like him. He was a rigorously tough legal thinker yet a totally decent and gentle soul.”

Morris is survived by his wife, Elaine Richardson Morris; three sons, Gareth Morris, married to Elizabeth Morris; Malcolm Morris, whose partner is Scott Harms Rose; and Christopher Morris, married to Ann Elizabeth Morris; and three grandchildren, Madelyn Morris, Emily Morris and Gregory Morris, married to Sarah Morris. A private family service will be held this week. The University of Chicago Law School will hold a memorial service at a date to be announced. The family suggests that donations be made to the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School.
Last modified at 04:31 PM CST on Thursday, March 04, 2004.

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