LEGALST 190WI | Punishment in America

2021 Spring

Christopher Kutz & Anna Zaret

This upper-division seminar will look at the theory and practice of criminal punishment in the United States: we will read and discuss materials from philosophy, history, law, anthropology, and sociology to discuss under what conditions state punishment could be justified, and how the American modern practice of mass incarceration and capital punishment do or — as most agree — do not meet those conditions.

The substantive goal for this seminar is to give you an understanding of the problems of American penal policy, and enable you to engage in the project of its reform. A second, and equally important, goal is to help you hone skills in interpreting complex materials and information, both written and observed.

This course is an Art of Writing seminar, which means that we will focus intensively on the craft of writing, both analytically and persuasively, through frequent, iterative, writing projects and one-on-one conferences with the instructors (Professor Kutz and a specially-trained GSI).

In non-pandemic times, the seminar would involve field trips to San Quentin State Prison and the Oakland criminal courts. Given likely conditions preventing direct visits, we will find substitute virtual experiences, including conversations with those with direct experience in and with criminal punishment, on both sides of the bars.