In Memoriam: James Jacobs

James B. Jacobs, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Courts, and director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice, passed away on March 19. 

“Jim was an immense figure in academia and a deeply cherished friend and colleague,” Dean Trevor Morrison said in an email announcement to the Law School community. “He will be remembered for his intellectual rigor, his dedication to his students and his research, and his genuine warmth and humanity. He will be deeply missed.”

Jim Jacobs
James Jacobs

Jacobs’s research and writing were esteemed by criminologists, legal academics, public officials, and practitioners around the world. A prolific writer, Jacobs was the author of 17 books and hundreds of articles, including his dissertation and first book, Stateville: The Penitentiary in Mass Society, which became an enduring classic in the sociology of the prison and socio-legal studies more generally. His most recent book, on the complexities of gun control, was published late last year.

Jacobs joined the NYU Law faculty in 1982. Before that, he served on the faculties of Cornell’s Law School and Sociology Department. He was also a visiting professor at Columbia Law School, the University of Capetown in South Africa, and Leuven University, Belgium. At NYU, he taught criminal law, criminal procedure, federal criminal law, and juvenile justice, and a variety of seminars on topics such as gun control, imprisonment, the regulation of vice, and cybercrime. 

In 1983, Jacobs established the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at NYU Law. The Center is known for the monthly Hoffinger Colloquium Lectures and the weekly Goldstock Criminal Law Faculty Seminar, which bring together policymakers, judges, prosecutors, and other front-line practitioners to NYU Law to interact with Law School faculty, fellows, and students. “Jim deserves much of the credit for the very high regard in which NYU Law’s criminal law program is held today,” Morrison said. 

For an event at the Law School honoring Jacobs last fall, his colleagues and former students praised Jacobs and his contributions in a collection of written reflections. “The Criminal Justice Colloquium was only one example of how he brought people together from all parts of the bench and bar for regular conversation on the most important criminal justice issues of the day,” wrote NYU President Emeritus John Sexton, NYU Law Dean Emeritus and Benjamin Butler Professor of Law, adding that “this style of bridging the bench and bar became a template for our Law School.”

“What impresses me most is Jim’s intellectual vitality: his fascination with the world and his hunger to know exactly how everything works,” wrote David Garland, Arthur T. Vanderbilt Professor of Law. “Jim’s books grow out of that same curiosity, which is why they are so richly detailed and wide-ranging. They also grow out of his sociological skepticism: his questioning of conventional wisdom and his suspicion of theoretical abstraction. I think of this as Jim’s New York attitude.”

Vice Dean Rachel Barkow, Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy, recalled that she first met Jacobs while interviewing for a job at NYU Law. “I knew he was one of the leading scholars of criminal justice and his questions were tough, reflecting his broad knowledge of just about everything associated with criminal law.… He was intimidating!” she wrote. “I would have never guessed that the same person grilling me then was also a connoisseur of the ballet and the arts, one of the great ambassadors of New York City, a skier of enormous versatility, and one of the kindest, most generous colleagues and friends I have ever had.”

Posted March 20, 2020