The class serves as an introduction to the Crime, Law and Justice Studies minor through an interdisciplinary approach. The course uses approaches from history, sociology, ethnography, critical theory and literature to examine the sequence of events that occur in the criminal legal system to address the following questions and topics: Is our system just? What is crime, and what are some theories that claim to explain "criminality"? How did the US criminal legal process and procedures emerge, and how do they function today? What is the history of policing and the police, and what are current issues that shape policing today? What happens once a person is caught up in the criminal legal process, and what role do judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and forensics play in that process? In the small percentage of cases that proceed to trial, what happens, and what are the options for the person? What happens after, and do prisons administer just punishment? What about after prison?
The driving question of the course is what it means to have and create a just system and for whom, and how does race, gender, sexuality and other categories of identity shape how a person experiences this sequence of often inevitable events. To understand complex issues like Crime, Law and Justice, we will use numerous case studies and stories such as Kalief Browder, a 16-year who spent years in Rikers Island Prison without a conviction, and whose case spurred the movement to close Rikers. We look at how judges and prosecutors make decisions in a Cleveland Courthouse, how one man experienced the death penalty, and read short stories that imagine societies with different ways of administering justice. This class will have multiple class visits including a Juvenile Prison superintendent, a police officer, people who have been in prison, a lawyer with the Clemency project and others.