Justice, Mercy and Mass Incarceration

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Justice, Mercy and Mass Incarceration

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About this course: There are three orienting facts that render mass incarceration in the United States an ethical problem worthy of our deep consideration. First, the rate of incarceration has grown dramatically over the last 40 years so that today there are 2.2 million people in prison or jail, and another 5 million on probation or parole. This means that 1/32 adults in the USA are under state supervision. Second, the application of incarceration is disproportionately applied to the poor, people of color, and other vulnerable populations. Research shows that 85-90% of those in the criminal justice system fall below the poverty line, and the experience of incarceration only impoverishes…

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When you enroll for courses through Coursera you get to choose for a paid plan or for a free plan

  • Free plan: No certicification and/or audit only. You will have access to all course materials except graded items.
  • Paid plan: Commit to earning a Certificate—it's a trusted, shareable way to showcase your new skills.

About this course: There are three orienting facts that render mass incarceration in the United States an ethical problem worthy of our deep consideration. First, the rate of incarceration has grown dramatically over the last 40 years so that today there are 2.2 million people in prison or jail, and another 5 million on probation or parole. This means that 1/32 adults in the USA are under state supervision. Second, the application of incarceration is disproportionately applied to the poor, people of color, and other vulnerable populations. Research shows that 85-90% of those in the criminal justice system fall below the poverty line, and the experience of incarceration only impoverishes people further. The consequences of having a criminal record are harsh and debilitating, ranging from family disruption, social alienation, and disenfranchisement. In these ways and others, the current situation of crime and punishment represents a dramatic moral challenge. Finally, victims of crime are themselves poorly served by the current system, often ignored or sidelined in the machinery of punishment. This course seeks to discover alternatives to the current systems of crime and punishment in order to imagine a more inclusive, just and moral society.

Created by:  Vanderbilt University
  • Taught by:  Graham Reside, Assistant Professor

    Vanderbilt University Divinity School
Level Beginner Language English How To Pass Pass all graded assignments to complete the course. User Ratings 4.7 stars Average User Rating 4.7See what learners said Coursework

Each course is like an interactive textbook, featuring pre-recorded videos, quizzes and projects.

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Vanderbilt University Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville, Tenn., is a private research university and medical center offering a full-range of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.

Syllabus


WEEK 1


Course Welcome and Introduction



This module introduces the course's focus on mass incarceration in the United States as an ethical challenge. The facts that define the issue reveal a nation in crisis. We begin with an exploration of religious faith as one starting point for our investigation. However, this course is intended for anyone who is concerned with the problem of incarceration. Beyond following the theological call to attend to the least of these, the course is also motivated by the sociological observation that we learn much about ourselves and our society by exploring how we treat those we deem "criminal." The first module describes the elements of mass incarceration in the United States, and begins to investigate the causes and consequences of this reality.


3 videos, 7 readings, 1 practice quiz expand


  1. Reading: Acknowledgements
  2. Reading: About this course
  3. Reading: Recommended Readings
  4. Reading: About the "Pre-Course Survey"
  5. Practice Quiz: Pre-Course Survey
  6. Video: Dean Emilie Townes: "Faith, Values, and Mass Incarceration"
  7. Discussion Prompt: Incarceration as punishment
  8. Discussion Prompt: Crime Rates vs Incarceration Rates
  9. Discussion Prompt: Racial Disparities in Incarceration Rates
  10. Reading: Western Theories of Justice
  11. Video: Mass Incarceration: Introduction
  12. Video: Alex Friedmann: "Mass Incarceration, Criminalization, and Recidivism"
  13. Reading: Trends in U.S. Corrections
  14. Reading: Facts About Prisons
  15. Discussion Prompt: Lifetime Liklihood of Imprisonment of U.S. Residents
  16. Discussion Prompt: 1 in every 50 Children has a Parent in Prison
  17. Discussion Prompt: 6.1 Million Cannot Vote
  18. Discussion Prompt: 1 in 10 Black Men in His Thirties
  19. Discussion Prompt: Incarceration Up 500%

Graded: Negative Effects of Incarceration

WEEK 2


Crime and Punishment
This module takes up the questions of crime and punishment. What is crime and what are the purposes of punishment? What are the cultural resources that inform the way we think about punishment today?


9 videos, 4 readings expand


  1. Reading: The Bible and Punishment
  2. Video: Doug Knight: "The Biblical Origins of Crime and Punishment: The Social World of the Bible"
  3. Video: Doug Knight: "Justice and Mercy Applied: Stories from the Bible"
  4. Video: Doug Knight: "Stories of Justice and Mercy: Cain and Abel"
  5. Video: Doug Knight: "Stories of Justice and Mercy: The Goring of the Ox"
  6. Video: Doug Knight: "The Ten Commandments: Law, Order and Sacred Authority"
  7. Video: Doug Knight: "Why the Bible Still Matters: Crime and Punishment Today"
  8. Video: Social Theories of Punishment
  9. Reading: Durkheim, The Functions of Crime
  10. Video: Retributive Theories of Punishment
  11. Reading: Retributive Justice
  12. Video: Utilitarian Theories of Punishment
  13. Reading: Legal Punishment

Graded: The Role of Punishment

WEEK 3


The Rise of the Prison
This module takes up the question of the rise of the prison, and its expressions in contemporary USA. How did the Prison Industrial Complex arise, and why has it taken the form it has?


11 videos, 7 readings expand


  1. Video: The Rise of the Prison, Part 1: From the Ancient to the Early Modern Period
  2. Discussion Prompt: Prisons in the Ancient world
  3. Video: The Rise of the Prison, Part 2: The Colonial Period to Now
  4. Discussion Prompt: The Bridewell
  5. Video: Alex Friedmann: "What is the prison-industrial complex or PIC?"
  6. Reading: History of Prisons
  7. Reading: Film Viewing Guide: "The Farm: Angola Prison"
  8. Reading: The “Legacy of Slavery” Comes to the Smithsonian with Angola Prison Guard Tower Donation
  9. Reading: Angola Museum: History of Angola Prison
  10. Video: Lisa Guenther: "How do prisoners end up in solitary confinement, and what happens there?"
  11. Video: "Why prisons Started using solitary confinement and why we should end the practice of extreme isolation"
  12. Discussion Prompt: Solitary Confinement
  13. Video: Alex Friedmann: "History of the Private, For-Profit Prison: The Convict Lease System"
  14. Video: Joe Ingle: "The Convict Lease System"
  15. Discussion Prompt: The Convict Lease System
  16. Reading: Viewing Guide and links to PBS "Slavery by Another Name"
  17. Video: Alex Friedmann: “The Private Prison Business Model”
  18. Video: Alex Friedmann: “Why Private Prisons? The Politics of Punishment”
  19. Video: Alex Friedmann: “Prisoners as Commodities: Moral and Ethical Objections to Private Prisons”
  20. Discussion Prompt: Private Prisons
  21. Video: Alex Friedmann: “Private Prison Industry: Ancillary Products & Services”
  22. Reading: Mother Jones: "My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard"
  23. Reading: Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration

Graded: Prison Privatization

WEEK 4


Criminalization: The Experience of Prison



This module looks more closely at the intimate details and experiences of criminalization and incarceration. We explore the experience of being charged with a crime, of going through the court system, and of finding oneself in prison. What is the experience of prison, both on those who find themselves inside and those who are the family and friends of the incarcerated?


12 videos, 4 readings expand


  1. Video: Alex Friedmann: "From Mass Incarceration to For-Profit Prisons: Criminalization as Market Driver"
  2. Video: Alex Friedmann: "Mass Incarceration, Criminalization and Recidivism"
  3. Discussion Prompt: Recidivism
  4. Video: Dawn Deaner: “History and Purpose of Public Defense”
  5. Reading: Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963)
  6. Video: Dawn Deaner: “Public Defense: How it Works and Doesn't Work”
  7. Video: Dawn Deaner: “The Impact of Poverty on Justice”
  8. Discussion Prompt: Hidden Costs of Incarceration
  9. Video: Dawn Deaner: “Biggest Challenges in Public Defense”
  10. Video: Dawn Deaner: “Concluding Thoughts”
  11. Discussion Prompt: Challenges Facing our Justice System
  12. Video: Chief August Washington: “Challenges to Policing”
  13. Reading: The Atlantic: "Travesties in Criminal Justice That Are Mostly Ignored"
  14. Video: Roundtable Discussion: The Experience of Prison
  15. Video: Roundtable Discussion: The Day-to-Day Reality of Prison
  16. Video: Roundtable Discussion: The Hidden Pains of Prison
  17. Video: Roundtable Discussion: Painful Truths About Prison in America
  18. Reading: Viewing Guide: PBS "Me Facing Life: Cyntoia's Story"
  19. Reading: Viewing Guide: "Rikers: An American Jail"

Graded: Making Criminals

WEEK 5


Race, Incarceration and Social Control



This module focuses directly on the dynamics of race and exclusion within the criminal justice system in the United States. It describes and seeks to explain the causes of racial disparity in incarceration rates and examines the mutually re-enforcing dynamics of poverty and incarceration.


6 videos, 10 readings expand


  1. Video: Joe Ingle: “Racism and Punishment in the U.S.”
  2. Reading: Alexis DeTocqueville, on the "Tyranny of the Majority"
  3. Discussion Prompt: The "Tyranny of the Majority"
  4. Reading: McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987)
  5. Reading: Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology: "Comparative Review of Death Sentences: An Empirical Study of the Georgia Experience"
  6. Reading: Film Viewing Guide for PBS "Slavery by Another Name" (90 minutes)
  7. Discussion Prompt: Slavery by Another Name
  8. Video: The School-to-Prison Pipeline
  9. Discussion Prompt: The School-to-Prison Pipeline
  10. Video: Michael Fisher: "Poverty, Housing Policy, and Segregation"
  11. Discussion Prompt: Housing policy and criminalization
  12. Video: Michael Fisher: "The Criminalization of Poverty"
  13. Video: Michael Fisher: "Crime: A Matter of Culture or Policy?"
  14. Reading: The Atlantic: "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration"
  15. Reading: Film Viewing Guide: "13th"
  16. Reading: The New Yorker: "Kalief Browder, 1993–2015"
  17. Reading: Recommended - The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Prison
  18. Video: Chief August Washington: “Policing and Racial Bias”
  19. Discussion Prompt: Policing and Racial Bias
  20. Reading: The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty
  21. Reading: Implicit Bias Brief

Graded: The Social Function of Punishment

WEEK 6


Justice and Mercy: Alternatives to Mass Incareration



The course has examined mass incarceration as a significant social and ethical problem. In this final module, we turn our attention to alternatives to the present system of punishment. Following Dean Townes' invitation, we seek to "respond to the dehumanizing effects of imprisonment." We explore community policing, criminal justice reform, and alternative models, including restorative justice, in a bid to locate possibilities for hope.


9 videos, 2 readings, 1 practice quiz expand


  1. Video: Dean Emilie Townes: “How do we reconcile faith and mass incarceration?”
  2. Video: Dean Emilie Townes: "How do we respond to dehumanizing effects of imprisonment"
  3. Video: Dean Emilie Townes: "How can we help people avoid re-incarceration? Building capacity in people by partnering with communities of faith”
  4. Reading: Viewing Guide for Bryan Stevenson's "We need to talk about an injustice"
  5. Video: Chief August Washington: “Community Policing”
  6. Video: Roundtable Discussion: “Restorative Justice: A Movement
  7. Video: Roundtable Discussion: “Restorative Justice: Principles and Practices”
  8. Video: Roundtable Discussion: “Restorative Justice as an Alternative to Mass Incarceration”
  9. Video: Roundtable Discussion: “Broadening the Impact of Restorative Justice”
  10. Video: Dean Emilie Townes: "Turning knowledge into action: Next Steps"
  11. Reading: Viewing Guide: Restorative Justice Process
  12. Practice Quiz: End of Course Survey

Graded: Take Action!

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