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In Memoriam: Raymond Paternoster

Alumnus, criminal justice scholar Ray Paternoster dies at 65

Ray Paternoster, a 1972 graduate of the University of Delaware, passed away March 5, 2017, after a nearly three-month battle against idiopathic pancreatitis. He was 65.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in sociology at UD, he earned a master’s degree in criminal justice at Southern Illinois University in 1975 and his doctorate in criminology at Florida State University in 1978. He taught at the University of South Carolina before joining the faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he became a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

On the department’s website, Jim Lynch, chair of the department, called Dr. Paternoster “a major reason for the continued high quality of the program” and noted, “Ray has done some of the most important work on sentencing and offender decision making in the last three decades.”

Dr. Paternoster was the author of several books and more than 200 articles and chapters. He was an internationally renowned scholar in the area of deterrence/rational choice theory and offender decision-making, and was at the forefront of more rigorous empirical testing of theory in general.

Beyond these academic achievements, he worked tirelessly to ensure that his scholarship was translated to policy. For example, his pursuit of social justice in the application of the death penalty was relentless. He was the principal investigator on a 2003 Maryland state-commissioned study of the role of race and geography in the application of the death penalty that empirically demonstrated the differential likelihood of receiving a death sentence for white and African American defendants and across jurisdictions. At the request of several organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he performed countless statistical analyses and provided expert testimony in court cases across the U.S. on the effects of race and jurisdiction in capital cases. In addition to his influence on the legal and justice systems, he also worked extensively with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to help ground the latest scientific research in their efforts to combat cheating in sports.

Dr. Paternoster was just as devoted to teaching as he was to scholarship. He mentored dozens of Ph.D. students and junior colleagues, and delighted in teaching undergraduate courses in statistics.

His family said he was “a one-of-a-kind professor who took both his scholarship and teaching extremely seriously, but never took himself too seriously. When named and distinguished professorships became an additional rung on the ladder for faculty to achieve in academia and another status symbol on email signatures, he added the moniker, ‘Emperor of Wyoming,’ to his signature in playful protest. He will always remain the only Emperor of Wyoming.”

Dr. Paternoster loved the Yankees, stand up paddle boarding, traveling, backpacking, skiing and walking his dog, Mickey, in the woods. He was also a voracious reader and did The New York Times crossword puzzle every day. His family said he recently learned to love RVing, despite his original perception that it was “camping for wimps.” His newest interest was in cooking, and he insisted that his family call him “Chef” when he was in the kitchen.

He is survived by his wife, Ronet Bachman, professor of sociology at UD, their son, John Bachman-Paternoster; three siblings, Carole Gaughan, Anthony Paternoster and Kim Paternoster; and other family members.

There will be celebration of Dr. Paternoster’s life this summer. Donations in his memory may be made to the Delaware Food Bank, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice or the American Civil Liberties Foundation.

Condolences may be left online.


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