R.I.P. Mark Kleiman

Professor Mark Kleiman, the founder of RBC, and a giant in crime and drug policy analysis for decades, passed away this morning after a long illness that he himself had chronicled here. His sister Kelly announced his death on Twitter earlier today, asking that “If you are moved to honor him, please donate to the NYU Transplant Institute, the ACLU, or any Democratic candidate.”

All of us who have written at RBC over the years mourn the loss of our remarkable colleague and friend.

UPDATED July 23-25 to link to some terrific tributes to Mark from Ed Kilgore, German Lopez, Kevin Drum, James Joyner, Jacob Sullum, Dan Mitchell, Gabriel Rossman, Harold Pollack, Sam Roberts, Megan McArdle, and me.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

24 thoughts on “R.I.P. Mark Kleiman”

  1. I knew him only from many, many years of this blog, supplemented by a few emails and one brief telephone conversation. Nevertheless, I feel like I have lost a close friend. Rest in peace, Professor.

  2. This is devastating. Mark wasn’t just one of the most brilliant criminal justice researchers and policy experts I have ever met, but he was also just an incredibly genuine, generous, and good person. This is not to say that Mark wouldn’t go after you if he thought your ideas needed to be sharpened. And he certainly did not suffer fools. But in a field that can often be driven by cynical opportunism—Mark was all heart.

    Here’s a funny and charming story, which I always think about when I think about Mark. A few years ago, I invited him to speak at a conference I had organized in Illinois around promising practices to reduce gun violence. I picked him up from the airport and drove him to the hotel, which was a couple hours away. We talked the whole way—about everything from criminal to a book his reading about the Odyssey. When we arrived, I parked the car and mentioned that I was upset I had forgotten my running shoes and I wanted to go for a run because it was such a nice day. “You can borrow my shoes if you want,” Mark replied, pointing to the black athletic shoes he was currently wearing. Now you might think Mark was joking. He wasn’t. He was literally going to let me borrow his shoes—the only pair he brought—so I could go for a run. I told him I appreciated it, but I was good. We took our luggage inside and checked in.

    Now you might think it was a little strange that Mark was ready to give me his shoes—and truly it was—but it also shows what kind of person he was. He was that generous and kind.

    I’m going to miss reading Mark’s work and especially talking to him and trying to soak up as much of his brilliance as I possible could. My condolences to his sister, Kelly, and all of his friends and colleagues.

  3. I loved Mark’s contributions to this blog. I was so impressed that I ordered (and read) a copy of “When Brute Force Fails”, even though I do not live in the US.

    Mark and I had oesophageal problems in common, though his were worse than mine. My regret is that I did not communicate with him, though I had intended to.

    I am sure Mark will be mourned in many languages. Though an atheist, I love the dignity of the Gaelic blessing “Ar deis De go raibh a n-anam” May his soul sit on God’s right hand. My sympathy to his relatives and friends.

  4. Damn. I knew him only from his work here and elsewhere, but the warmth, kindness and fundamental decency his colleagues and loved ones (I imagine there was quite a bit of overlap between those two categories) knew were clear from his writings. Deepest condolences.

  5. Truly bad news. I’ve sent my condolences to his loyal sister Kelly, who as many of you know donated one of her kidneys to him to prolong his life in the final struggle.

    The Internet gets a lot of stick for promoting superficial pseudo-friendships based on nothing more than shared prejudices. But in the case of Mark and me, it became a true and lasting one. A few times he must have had second thoughts about the wisdom of his decision to invite me to join a blog of such calibre, but if so, he never let it show, and backed me when I needed it. Perhaps we should rename the blog, if it continues. as “Friends of Kleiman”?

    1. I think that’s a lovely idea—“Friends of Kleiman.” He was such a unique man. Brilliant, genuine, kind, and really, really funny. I loved how when he would talk about policy, he would always sprinkle in a joke or what would often seem at first like a random anecdote, but then it would would end up perfectly illustrating a point he was making. Whenever I think about the phenomenon of aging out crime, for example, I think of Mark telling me once, “Criminals are a lot like basketball players. Even the best aren’t really so good once they turn 40.” I have never met anyone like Mark—and don’t expect I’ll meet anyone quite like him again. I like “Friends of Kleiman”—because while he inspired and influenced so many people, I don’t think anyone can truly follow him.

  6. Ah, this is so sad…I knew him only from his writing here, which I very much enjoyed, and I will miss him…my condolences to his family, friends & colleagues.

  7. I want to add my condolences as well, particularly to Kelly. Mark was a gifted intellectual and a good person. I will miss him.

  8. “When fellow libertarians complained to me about Kleiman’s legendary prickliness, I would remind them of that history, which illustrated his best qualities: intellectual rigor and honesty, combined with a willingness to draw unpopular conclusions when he believed they were justified by the evidence. I did not always agree with Kleiman’s conclusions, but I admired his method, which acknowledged subtleties and uncertainties, anticipated counterarguments, and insisted on empirical support for claims that were frequently asserted as articles of faith.”
    RIP Mark Kleiman, Who Brought Rigor, Dispassion, and Candor to a Frequently Overheated Drug Policy Debate: The widely quoted and consulted academic died yesterday at the age of 68.

  9. This comes a shock. After reading the introduction of his medical journal a few months ago, I had assumed he had overcome his illness and was well on his way to recovery. I’m so sorry to hear this.

    Be at peace, Mark.

  10. I too only knew Professor Kleiman through his writing–here, and his published work–but I knew him well enough to mourn the passing of a strong, honest thinker, and a clear writer. My condolences to his family.

  11. Knowing Mark for years, I don’t think that he would cotton to the idea of the blog being renamed for him. Not that he was a shy wallflower; rather, he would want the idea embodied in the blog’s title to be front and center. My concern is more about maintaining the blog: I hope that either Keith or James, two of the more prolific contributors, would take it on.

    Mike Maltz

    1. The majority seems to be against the name change. Fine. But I am the last person you want as moderator. I am non-American, old, and lazy, and lack serious academic credentials – which may be overrated in the grand scheme of life, but are still important in getting an entrée. In practice Keith has been running the blog for over a year during Mark’s illness. I very much hope he can carry on as long as the readership (weighted by quality as well as numbers) justifies it

  12. Like many who have already commented, I knew Professor Kleiman primarily through this blog. However, his personality came through in his writings here–I can’t say it better than hermansfeet: “warmth, kindness and fundamental decency,” in addition to his clarity of thought. My deepest sympathy to his family, friends and colleagues.

  13. I am very sorry to hear this too. He is a brave soul and perhaps a bit mischievous, what with this surprise ending. I am not at all holy but will pray for his family anyhow, as my guess is that God already likes him and there is no issue there. I feel a bit sorry for us though.

  14. Mark was an early mentor and longtime friend of mine. As everyone here knows, he set the bar high for intellectual honesty and creative thinking about hard problems, especially in the criminal justice and drug policy areas.

    He hired me for my first substantive job as his research assistant at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and as part of his then-nascent consulting firm, BOTEC Analysis, in 1984 (I used to say he rescued me from washing dishes in the Adams House dining hall). He was unrelenting about putting data first, fearlessly following facts wherever they may lead. We worked on a pilot study in Lynn, MA, where the police were deeply concerned about heroin use and the resulting spike in street crime, and drove down both by tackling the problem using a supply-and-demand approach rather than the moralistic preaching (“Just say no”) or headline-grabbing prosecution of kingpins that were so prevalent at the time.

    He credited me (erroneously) with having written his doctoral dissertation about marijuana policy, proving my theory that if you say back to a smart person what they’ve just said to you, they’ll think you’re smart, too.

    While journalists dubbed him the Pot Czar for his role in advising many states and jurisdictions about how legalization of marijuana would work, he delighted in the much cleverer title, Your Highness.

    I was fortunate to have encountered him at such a pivotal time in my intellectual and professional development and immensely enjoyed our ongoing friendship in later years, recently and memorably shoulder to shoulder at the Women’s March NYC in 2018.

    He was relentless, too, in fighting the severe illnesses that finally claimed his life yesterday, mastering every medical detail, challenging the docs and other medical professionals to answer his very probing and pertinent questions, then chronicling his observations here, for a small army of caring colleagues, friends, and relatives.

    A very special shout-out to Kelly, who has elevated the term sisterhood to a whole new definition, donating a kidney and so much more to the fight.

    Rest in peace, dear friend and leading light.

    PS Please do not, under any circumstances, change the title of this blog. He WILL come back and haunt you for the rest of your days!

  15. Very sad news but not a surprise. Anyone following Mark’s medical updates should have seen this coming. With all his very serious medical conditions I don’t understand how he was ever considered a viable candidate for a transplant.

    He left a big legacy and will be missed.

  16. I loved the clarity of his writing and the power of his reasoning. I’ll miss his voice terribly.

    My heartfelt condolences go out to all who knew and loved him. He was a remarkable man.

  17. I’ve waited a while before offering my comments on Mark. That’s because, with respect to my contribution to the RBC, I am a johnny-come-lately.

    That said, with the obvious exception of Kelly, I knew Mark longer than anyone on the RBC since Mark and I were high school classmates. (Note: when first drafting this comment, I typed “I’ve known Mark . . . ” Correcting the tense was painful.) That gives me a somewhat different perspective than the others here.

    To that end, let me offer the following: Mark was inspired by his teachers. I don’t mean just those who taught him in college or graduate school like Thomas Schelling, but also those dedicated teachers who taught in the Baltimore City public schools such as Herbert Bernhardt, Stephanie Miller, and Paul Keyser. I know this because Mark spoke to me about them and the debt that he owed them.

    Yes, Mark made great contributions to the study of public policy. But, in a very real sense, he was a teacher, following in the footsteps of those who had inspired him years earlier. This blog is but one example of Mark’s desire to teach, to impart to others his knowledge. It may be presumptuous for me to say this (and, ultimately it’s not my call), but I think that Mark would have wanted us to continue the RBC and continue to teach.

    1. Thanks for this Stuart — very good to hear from someone who knew him from way back (I only met him about 15 years ago).

  18. I’m very sad to read this. I owed him an email from last July, when I’d sent him a link to a Bright Idea I’d had. He’d thought it over, having had difficulty putting his finger on what was wrong with my idea, and then written me a short note when he did. I’d been trying to answer him ever since. Now that I don’t have to worry about his response, I have come up with a reply, which I guess is motivated reasoning!

    I tell this little story on myself because Mark Kleiman didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat. I’m just a guy on the internet who said, “Hey! Looka me!” and promoted himself.

    But he thought about what I wrote, and gave me a reply I’ve thought about, off and on, for a year. That act speaks for itself.

    My condolences to all, especially Kelly “the cool” Kleiman. I’m not sad like you folks are, but I am sad.

    1. I am fortunate to have known Mark since about 1972 and have been enriched by every interaction with him. He was a true friend.

      His force of will was indomitable — almost as strong as his generosity and intellect that others have addressed. I was through NYC at the end of June and was pleased to have lunch with Mark in his apartment. In retrospect I can only assume that he was in the throes of his fatal health crisis, but he had me convinced that this was just one more step on the tortuous path of miraculous recovery. I can’t remember all the details, but his daily battles with the insurance company, hospitals, and pharmacies to obtain urgently needed medicines were horrifying. In addition to Kelly’s suggestions for donations in Mark’s honor, I suggest that we all redouble our efforts to reform our health system to make it work for everyone.

      Mark had an unmatched intellectual seriousness that he applied to his personal life. How many others responded to analysis that real estate was over-valued by selling their residences and moving into rentals? At one point Mark offered to involve me in some research on nicotine funded by a tobacco interest. While I declined, I completely trusted Mark to remain uncorrupted whatever the source of his funding.

      While we friends note Mark’s personal qualities, we should also recognize his achievements. While I could only admire his drug policy work as a citizen consumer of policy analysis, I have found Mark’s work on how deterrence can affect populations of actual and potential bad actors (e.g. through dynamic concentration) to be valuable well beyond law enforcement and drug policy, for example in cyber security policy.

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