A critic of mass incarceration in the US has died
Devah Pager was not a simple academic who wrote and sat back while the world burned
The late Harvard professor, beloved mother and friend was not afraid to stand up for justice, fight racism and use her leverage, intellect and unique insight to denounce a broken system
Devah Pager is survived by her husband Mike Shohl, her son Atticus, relatives and many friends
November 5, 2018
On Nov. 3, the world of academia lost one of its most brilliant minds with the death of Devah Pager, a public intellectual and sociology professor at Harvard University. In a Facebook post published shortly after her passing, Devah Pager’s husband Mike Shohl made the following announcement:
As many of you know, and many of you don't, Devah was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer two years ago. She immediately began treatment, and underwent a remarkable recovery a year later, to the point where they couldn't detect any presence of cancer in her body. Unfortunately, that recovery was short-lived, and a month later, it returned. Despite terrible back pain, and the medications used to suppress it, Devah never let it slow her down, forging ahead with new work that will influence academics for generations to come and, not to be understated, change the world for the better. Even while helping to save the world, she was the driving force in our little family, every day showing she was the most devoted, compassionate, loving mother and wife. I'm heartbroken to write this, but she died last night, at only 46. She will be missed by her family, friends, and colleagues. I love her, and am going to miss her for the rest of my life. Her impact will live with us for the rest of our lives, even if hers was tragically too short.
Pager was best known for her work on the prison system and mass incarceration of working-class people of color particularly African-American youth. In her 2002 dissertation, later published in 2003 in the American Journal of Sociology, she indicted the criminal justice system for its negative effect on the lives of Black youth in the United States:
While stratification researchers typically focus on schools, labor markets, and the family as primary institutions affecting inequality, a new institution has emerged as central to the sorting and stratifying of young and disadvantaged men: the criminal justice system. With over 2 million individuals currently incarcerated, and over half a million prisoners released each year, the large and growing numbers of men being processed through the criminal justice system raises important questions about the consequences of this massive institutional intervention.
Pager’s work was that of a courageous scholar-activist who brought attention to the injustices of the prison industrial complex and engaged in intellectual work that did not stay within the confines of academia as it pushed for policy changes. Devah Pager was a light in the heart of darkness whose relentless fight for democracy and civil rights for African-Americans will impact future generations.
Scholars, authors, activists and students reacted to her death in social media: