In Memoriam: Dr. Barry Krisberg

In Memoriam: Dr. Barry Krisberg

February 28, 2024 | Evident Change

Dr. Barry A. Krisberg

Evident Change deeply mourns the passing of our former president, Dr. Barry Krisberg. Dr. Krisberg passed away on February 13, 2024. He is survived by his wife, Karen McKie; their sons, Moshe (Jessica Katz) and Zaïd; and grandchildren, Memphis and Lyra.

Dr. Krisberg served as president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (now Evident Change) for 27 years beginning in 1983. A nationally recognized expert and advocate for justice reform since the late 1960s, Dr. Krisberg had a major impact on numerous issues, including the closure of youth prisons in California, the death penalty, progressive strategies for community violence prevention, and more. During his tenure as president, Dr. Krisberg’s notable accomplishments included the following.

  • 1980s: With the Youth Law Center, NCCD pushed a successful statewide campaign in California to ban the jailing of children in adult lockups.
  • 1988: NCCD filed an amicus brief in Thompson v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court decision that ruled that the “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibition of the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of a person who was under 16 years of age at the time of their offense. In 2005 this decision led the Supreme Court to reject the death penalty for people who were under age 18 at the time of their offense (Roper v. Simmons).
  • 1991: NCCD’s Juvenile Justice Policy Statement addressed the rehabilitative concepts at the root of the juvenile court law, stressing that society cannot “afford to underwrite a national policy of sacrificing historic juvenile justice goals by seeking to incapacitate an entire new generation of young [people] in costly secure youth institutions.”
  • 1992: Testified before the House Subcommittee on Human Resources concerning the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).
  • 1993: With Chris Baird, established the Children’s Research Center to work with child welfare systems throughout the nation.
  • 2005: NCCD published a criminal justice policy statement emphasizing the need for more person-centric, accountable, and effective sentencing decisions.
  • 2006: Testified before the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
  • 2008: Established the National Center for Girls and Young Women to address unique issues of girls and women in the justice system.
Barry Krisberg speaking into a microphone at the NCCD centennial celebration gala in NYC.

Dr. Krisberg’s professional contributions stand as lasting monuments to his dedication to justice, race and gender equity, and compassion. For those who knew him personally, his impact extends beyond these accomplishments.

“Barry was a tireless advocate for youth justice. He never listened harder to anyone than he listened to kids who were in confinement. He grounded all of his policy work in their experiences,” said Dr. Angie Wolf, Chief Program Officer, who conducted research with Dr. Krisberg for many years. “Throughout his career, Barry was focused on closing youth prisons and ending the over-surveillance and incarceration of young men of color. He also never forgot about the experiences of girls and women in the system.”

Dr. Wolf continued, “Barry was a mentor to many of us, and while we shared many significant victories under his leadership, he also taught that failure was part of the process and staying the course is what matters. He had the vision to embrace not just hot-topic projects that may have quick success, but also the less urgent, foundational work that may not seem relevant until down the road.”

For Dr. Krisberg, the real-life experiences behind the numbers were what mattered. That belief continues to fuel Evident Change’s work. As he once said to a young analyst, “You used the right methods, your research is solid, but that is not the point. The kids are the point.” 

After retiring from NCCD, Dr. Krisberg served as a senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the University of California, Berkeley Law School; a Lecturer in Residence at the Juris Doctor Program at Berkeley Law; and as the Director of Research and Policy at Berkeley Law. In 2023, he saw a lifetime goal achieved when the California Division of Juvenile Justice closed its last youth prison.

Dr. Krisberg’s accomplishments and awards included the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Criminology as well as the August Vollmer Award. He was appointed by the California legislature to serve on the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Inmate Population Management; served as past president and fellow of the Western Society of Criminology; chaired the California Attorney General’s Research Advisory Committee; chaired an expert panel to investigate conditions in California youth prisons; and was named in a consent decree to help develop remedial plans and monitor mandated reforms with the California Division of Juvenile Justice. Dr. Krisberg was a member of the American Correctional Association, the National Association of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, and the Association of Criminal Justice Researchers. He received his master’s degree in criminology and his doctorate in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Krisberg’s publications included numerous articles and books, among them Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, Slavery and the Penal System (with J. Thorsten Sellin), American Corrections: Concepts and Controversies (with Susan Marchionna and Christopher Hartney), Continuing the Struggle for Justice: 100 Years of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (edited with Susan Marchionna and Christopher Baird), Juvenile Justice: Redeeming Our Children, Crime and Justice at the Millennium: Essays by and in Honor of Marvin E. Wolfgang (edited with Robert A. Silverman, Terence P. Thornberry, and Bernard Cohen), Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders: A Sourcebook (with James C. Howell, J. David Hawkins, and John J. Wilson), Reinventing Juvenile Justice (with James F. Austin), National Juvenile Custody Trends, 1978–1989, The Children of Ishmael: Critical Perspectives on Juvenile Justice (with James F. Austin), Crime and Privilege: Toward a New Criminology, and The Gang and the Community.