PREREQUISITES: 3 COURSES IN SOCIOLOGY, INCLUDING SOC-UA 1 OR
SOC-UA 2 OR SOC-UA 3 OR PERMISSION OF INSTRUCTOR.
OPEN ONLY TO JUNIOR & SENIOR SOCIOLOGY MAJORS --
PERMISSION OF THE DEPARTMENT REQUIRED. ACCESS CODE MUST BE OBTAINED AT DEPARTMENT.
This seminar aims to help students understand the system of criminal punishment that operates in contemporary America and to explore the ways in which American punishment – like many other features of US society – appears unusual or even ‘exceptional’ in comparison to other nations and other historical periods.
The seminar begins with the observation that American criminal punishment appears remarkably severe. Compared to other nations, the US federal system and each of the 50 states exhibit (i) higher rates of incarceration; (ii) higher rates of correctional supervision; (iii) extraordinary penalties such as capital punishment and life imprisonment without possibility of parole (LWOP); (iv) more extensive collateral consequences such as disfranchisement, limitations on employment and residence, loss of welfare benefits; (v) more publicly-available and longer-lasting criminal records; and (vi) a distinctive system of imposing administrative fees and custodial charges on indigent offenders and inmates.
No other nation today deploys penal power in these ways and to this extent. No liberal democracy, and possibly no totalitarian regime, has ever developed a penal system of this size and scope. And prior to the 1970s, America’s penal system was much less harsh and far-reaching. The aim of the seminar is to explain how this situation came about and why America has gone so much further than other nations in its use of the power to punish.
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