Race & the Crim Justice System

This seminar will try to answer one of the most sensitive questions facing Americans today: Why are African Americans grossly over-represented in the American criminal justice system? Some answer this question with a simple accusation that the system is racist in design and implementation, and point to familiar statistics to buttress their claim. African Americans are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. As of 2004, over 12% of African American men between the ages of 25 and 29 were in custody. For under-educated young black men, the incarceration rates are simply astounding: in 2000, nearly one in five African-American men under 41 who had not attended college were in prison or jail. Yet these statistics, as dispiriting as they are, must open the debate, not end it. While no one credibly doubts the persistence of racially biased decision-making throughout the criminal justice system, the best evidence is that African Americans commit a disproportionate share of street crimes relative to their share of the population. In addition, some careful empirical research strongly suggests that overt discrimination plays a relatively modest role in producing the current state of play. The explanations for the disparities that haunt the criminal justice system are nuanced and complex, and therefore deserving of careful study. Absorbing lessons from a wide variety of disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, economics, and law, this seminar will try to shed light on this vexing American problem. Attendance, preparation, and participation are mandatory. Because the literature on this topic is voluminous, the readings for each class will range across a wide field. I expect the time commitment to be substantial. Still, there are no special course requirements. Grades will be based on class participation (15%) and a research paper (85%) due at the end of the term. Students may use this course to fulfill the two-draft or three-draft requirement. As part of the course, we will tour either the Cook County Jail or the Stateville Maximum Security Prison in Joliet, Illinois, the timing of which will be determined once registration is complete and we have a roster of students. To accommodate the visit, the reading schedule will be adjusted as needed. Evaluation Method: Paper and in-class participation Class Materials: David Oshinsky, Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press 1997) Katherine Beckett, Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) Michael W. Flamm, Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (Columbia University Press: 2005) Michael Tonry, Punishing Race: A Continuing American Dilemma (Oxford University Press 2011) Doris Marie Provine, Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs (University of Chicago Press 2007)

Catalog Number: CRIM 646

Course History

Spring 2014
Title: Race & the Crim Justice System
Faculty: Margulies, Joseph (courses  |  homepage)
Section: 1     Credits: 3.0
Capacity: 25     Actual: 24