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Paul D. Jesilow
In Memoriam

Paul D. Jesilow

Professor of Criminology, Law & Society

UC Irvine

Professor Emeritus Paul Jesilow passed away on December 20, 2019 from a series of illnesses, a month shy of his 70th birthday. He was a beloved colleague in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine over the past four decades. Paul was the only faculty member in UCI’s School of Social Ecology’s history to receive his undergraduate and graduate degrees at UCI. He made highly significant contributions to the University despite dealing with major physical disabilities sustained in a car accident as a teenager. He was a quintessential role model for students, especially underrepresented students and those with physical disabilities, and was a noted scholar, making major contributions to criminology, particularly the study of white-collar crime.

Paul grew up in Pico Rivera and attended El Rancho High School, where he was later inducted into the Hall of Fame. After enrolling at UCI as an undergraduate, he served as a teaching assistant for a prisons course taught by Professor Gilbert Geis, who later became his mentor, close colleague and friend. Paul earned his B.A. in Sociology and Political Science (1972) and his M.A. (1976) and Ph.D. (1982) in Social Ecology, at the time, a novel interdisciplinary academic unit. In 1980, Paul began his professorial career in the Department of Criminal Justice at Indiana University (IU). Paul returned to UCI in 1987 as an Assistant Professor of Social Ecology, and was subsequently promoted to associate and then full professor. He was a truly committed and exceptional teacher.  Undergraduates consistently ranked Paul as one of the best professors in the School of Social Ecology. He won the School’s “Outstanding Professor” award multiple times (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006), and was named “Professor of the Year” in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society in 1994, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006.

Paul conducted numerous research projects during his career, publishing 6 books and editions, 50 articles and chapters, and additional official reports on topics ranging from healthcare fraud to policing, gender and crime, sentencing, criminal deterrence, social justice, criminological theory, criminal justice evaluation, and white-collar and corporate crime. With IU colleague Hal Pepinsky, he co-authored the acclaimed book, Myths that Cause Crime, which directly challenged a number of criminological shibboleths.  Published in numerous editions, it received the Outstanding Book Award from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, given annually for a work that makes an “extraordinary contribution to the study of crime and criminal justice.”

He also helped establish UCI as a center for the study of white-collar and corporate crime, and was a Co-PI, along with Gil Geis and Henry Pontell, on the first major research project looking at health care fraud in government medical programs, specifically, Medicaid fraud. He received a major NIJ grant that culminated in a pathbreaking UC Press book (Prescription for Profit: How Doctors Defraud Medicaid), numerous publications in top national and international outlets, and research results that influenced policymaking and law enforcement groups. In 2010, Paul was the Keynote Speaker at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Medicaid Program Integrity. He also studied healthcare fraud internationally, and in 2002, was a Fulbright Scholar at Stockholm University in Sweden.

Paul was also well ahead of the curve in appreciating and highlighting diversity issues, now a trademark of the academy. He was central to UCI’s efforts early on to advance diversity in all ways in academia. In the early 1990s, he played a major role in recruiting female faculty to the Department of Criminology, Law and Society, where they were at the time underrepresented. He was also an active member of the Chicano civil rights movement on the UCI campus. He was a compassionate and tireless advocate for ensuring campus accessibility for individuals with physical disabilities, and on numerous occasions, the University solicited his opinions regarding construction designs.

Paul enjoyed life to the fullest, despite chronically experiencing what was often extreme physical pain. He participated in campus and department events, and, when he was able to, traveled around the country and world conducting field research and attending academic events. He was a dedicated and knowledgeable basketball fan and former player, and served as a coach for a number of years in the Irvine Youth Basketball League. He attended UCI men’s and women’s basketball games with his daughter, Karolina. His beaming attitude toward life in the face of incredible physical hardship enriched everyone around him, and he was loved by many. He fought brilliantly and bravely through numerous serious health issues for a half-century while accomplishing major professional success and mentoring many others along the way. He leaves his wife Julie, daughter Karolina (age 11) and sons Tavin and Granger (age 5).

Bryan Burton, Assistant Professor
Criminology & Criminal Justice Studies, Sonoma State University

Henry Pontell, Professor Emeritus and Distinguished University Professor
Criminology, Law & Society and Sociology, UC Irvine
Sociology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Elliott Currie, Professor
Criminology, Law & Society, UC Irvine

Diego Vigil, Professor Emeritus
Criminology, Law & Society, UC Irvine