The United States incarcerates more of its residents than any other nation in the world. One out of every 200 U.S. residents was behind bars in 2009, up from about one out of every 1000 residents in 1980. The extraordinary growth in the prison population over the past 30-40 years raises a number of questions about how our society defines crime and justice, the institutions we have built to address issues of crime and justice, and the social impacts of these institutions. How have social and political forces helped to shape the way that we perceive crime? Does the system we have built succeed in delivering justice? How close is the relationship between crime and punishment? How can we explain the high rate of incarceration in the U.S., as compared to other nations? What sort of impacts does our justice system have on individuals, communities, governments, and crime rates? The primary goal of this course is to develop an understanding of the social causes and consequences of criminal justice system, not merely to describe how it operates.
The course will be divided into three parts. In the first part of the course, we explore questions that are fundamental to our discussion of criminal justice: what is crime? How do ideas about crime vary throughout time and across cultures? How do we conceptualize justice? How do our ideas of punishment fit with our ideas of crime and justice? The second part of the course will focus on the workings of the criminal justice system: how does the court system operate? How can a sociological perspective help us explain disparities in court outcomes? What is the role of the police? How do policing strategies impact individuals and neighborhoods? What has led to the rapid increase in our reliance on incarceration? How can we explain disparities in the prison population? In the third part of the course we will examine the impacts of the criminal justice system in the U.S. and consider alternative models of criminal justice: has our increasing reliance on incarceration lowered the crime rate? How does mass incarceration impact inmates, families, and communities? How have changes in the criminal justice system impacted other social institutions? What are some alternatives to the current system?
CLASS ASSIGNMENTS AND GRADING:
Students are expected to attend class regularly and to have completed all assigned readings prior to class. Students are also expected to regularly contribute to class discussions. Grading will reflect in-class participation in addition to performance on the following assignments: weekly reading responses, three short quizzes and a term paper to be due on the last day of the quarter.