GOVT-361 Prisons & Punishment
2.3 million Americans currently reside in jails and prisons, often under conditions of severe overcrowding, race-based segregation, and horrific physical and sexual violence. They are granted few (if any) educational opportunities or job training, in stark contrast to many European countries, which operate extensive rehabilitation programs that prepare inmates for their eventual release and reintegration into society. Yet even though prisoners and former prisoners (not to mention their family members) constitute a substantial portion of the American population, they are generally a powerless and forgotten group of people, with few rights or opportunities. Surprisingly, very little is known or taught about prisons and punishment—in the United States or elsewhere.
This course will explore these issues in a comparative perspective. It will seek to answer the following questions: Why does the U.S. maintain an incarceration rate that is seven times higher than other democracies, even though Americans are no more likely to be the victims of crimes than are people in other societies? Why is the U.S. one of the few democratic countries to sanction the death penalty? In other words, why is the criminal justice system in this country so much more punitive than in comparable countries?
The Fall 2011 version of this class will be a lecture course, but it will also involve several different formats, including smaller group discussions of certain readings, the viewing of several excellent movies and documentaries that relate to prisons and punishment, and a class “field trip” to an actual prison.
Texts & Readings
Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USA (San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2009)
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: The New Press, 2010)
Amy Bach, Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009)
Joseph T. Hallinan, Going Up the River: Travels in a Prison Nation (New York: Random House, 2001)
David M. Oshinsky, Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press, 1997)
Assignments & Expectations of Students
Students will take a midterm and a final exam, as well as write several short papers.
What Students Should Know
Note that the format for the Fall 2011 version of this course will be different from the Spring 2011 course, which was a Departmental Seminar. Fall 2011 will be a larger lecture course, but it will still include many of the same features from the seminar (occasional smaller group discussions, some films and documentaries, and a prison visit).
The attached syllabus if from the Spring 2011 version, as the Fall 2011 syllabus will not be finalized until the summer.
Other academic years
There is information about this course number in other academic years: