I am a Professor of Sociology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa who arrived to the academic world through an unusual route. My father–who spent five years in prison for armed robbery—taught me, first, that human beings are more than the sum total of the worst mistakes that they have made in their lives and, second, that we can not cure the problem of violence through retributive punishments and imprisonment. Changing people’s lives requires complex solutions, and I have dedicated my research and life to finding humane and effective ways to curb interpersonal violence and provide opportunities for individuals to engage in conventional society. Jacked Up and Unjust, coauthored with Karen Umemoto, is my second book. I have also published numerous academic journal articles regarding youth violence prevention, ethnographic methods, inequalities and delinquency, and youth culture. I am also dedicated to building culturally respectful, gender responsive, and non-punitive delinquency prevention programs for public school students.
"Jacked Up sensitively captures the complex of forces that bear down on a youth population we know very little about, helping us to understand the violence enacted
upon them and by them, the turbulence and entanglements of Hawaii’s colonial past, racial and gender injustice, the penalty of poverty and the fallout from youth incarceration. A thoughtful ethnography."—Amy L. Best, Author Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture and Fast Cars, Cool Rides: The Accelerating World of Youth and Their Cars
"This remarkable book demonstrates the incredible spirit of resilience that young people generate as they encounter poverty, racism, violence, and institutional failure and neglect. Irwin and Umemoto insightfully demonstrate the processes and programs that work in changing the punitive treatment that marginalized youths receive. This riveting ethnography provides readers with a rare look at the experiences of young women within the juvenile justice system."—Victor Rios, Author Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys
Based on nine years of ethnographic research, Irwin and Umemoto examine multiple inequalities that underscore youth violence. They feature the experiences of inner-city as well as rural girls and boys in Hawai‘i who face racism, sexism, poverty, and political neglect in the context of two hundred years of American colonial control in the Pacific.
The authors highlight how past injustices endure as challenging legacies in the present, prompting teens to fight for dignity and the chance to thrive in America – a country that the youth described as inherently “jacked up” and “unjust.”
While the story begins with the youth battling multiple contingencies, it ends on a hopeful note, as we see the teens overcome numerous hardships, often with the help of steadfast, caring adults.