This seminar examines the growth and consequences of detention centers, jails, and prisons in this age of “mass incarceration.” Nearly 2.4 million Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults, far more per crime than any industrialized nation. If we include persons on parole or probation, one adult in 23 is under correctional supervision. With cost taxpayers paying in excess of $75 billion each year and with African Americans and Latinos overrepresented in the American justice system, some scholars, advocates, and policy makers argue that mass incarceration represents one of the greatest social injustices of our time.
The seminar is designed to stimulate students to think critically about contemporary punishment practices, and the serious social and economic consequences of mass incarceration. What accounts for the growth of incarceration, including both prison and jail? What have been the effects of the prison build-up on individuals, their families, and communities? What are the public safety consequences? What happens to individuals when they attempt to reenter society and what barriers do they face? What happens to the children of incarcerated parents?
Course Goals/Student Learning Outcomes
The substantive course goals are to: (1) understand the critical issues facing the criminal justice system; (2) expand awareness of the opportunities and risks facing criminal justice reformers by the crisis of mass incarceration, and (3) identify solutions for policy makers to reduce incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels.
The skills-oriented goals are: (1) by participating in class discussions, you will hone your skills in speaking fluently and comfortably about criminal justice policy issues; (2) by writing a research paper in the course, you will sharpen your skills in policy research and writing.
By the end of the course, I hope you will gain a basic understanding of the legal, social, and policy factors that contributed to the exponential rise of America’s prison population, their consequences for U.S. law and policy, and the emerging alternative approaches to punishment that may reduce our reliance on incarceration. You will not learn every detail about America’s criminal justice system, but you should grasp the nature and structure of mass incarceration and have the ability to critically assess and effectively communicate its contemporary policy issues and possible solutions.