Prison Law & Mass Incarceration



 America has become a carceral state. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 2.3 million individuals were held in local, state, or federal jails and prisons. We incarcerate a larger percentage of our population than any other nation. Think tanks like the Pew Center on the States observed in a 2008 report that such explosive rates of imprisonment (approximately one in one hundred adults) cannot be sustained because it fails to prevent crime while simultaneously it causes a crippling drain on ever-decreasing public resources. More Americans and politicians, from both sides of the political spectrum, concur that we must address this crisis and reverse course away from our reliance on incarceration as a tool of crime prevention.

What are the legal rights and the status of these millions of incarcerated individuals? Through analysis of legal decisions as well as short- and long-form writings of journalists and legal scholars, we will explore the rights and realities for the men, women, and children, U.S. citizens and non-citizens, who find themselves behind bars. In addition, we will examine the origins of our perceived need to lock up criminals in order to make society safer.

This course is recommended for all law students and especially those who intend to practice or to be engaged in some aspect of criminal law from a political or policy perspective. While standard criminal law courses in substantive, procedural, and sentencing law are important, what occurs after sentencing has been ignored in law school curricula despite the fact that the consequences for the convicted, their families, and society are enormous. The Preamble to the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct states that a lawyer has many responsibilities: she is simultaneously a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.

Hence, whether or not completion of the course they will be quite knowledgeable about this critical issue of our time and they will be well-positioned to inform, educate, and influence others with their acquired knowledge from this course.