Spring 2005 Course Description

Seminar on Topics in Public Policy

Section Title: Criminal Justice Policy: Corrections and Sentencing
Instructor(s): Michele Deitch
Course: P A 388K - Seminar on Topics in Public Policy
Unique Number: 62766
Day & Time: Mondays, 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Room: SRH 3.108
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information
Notes: same as LAW 397S, SOC 396N

Description: Few policy issues have had as big an impact on the Texas political or social landscape as criminal justice, and fewer still have such a hold on the popular imagination. Yet informed debate that takes into account the financial and social costs of our state?s incarceration policies is rare. Time and again, public officials at all levels and in all branches of government find themselves confronting the thorny problems presented by the policy choices the state has made in the criminal justice arena.

This course will force us to go beyond the simplistic debates between ?tough on crime? and ?soft on crime? rhetoric, and confront the hard policy questions that mirror the daily challenges faced by policy-makers and public officials. For example, how should local leaders respond to an overcrowded jail? How can legislators protect the public from hardened criminals while facing immense budget shortfalls? Should the state or counties bear the financial burden presented by tough local sentencing practices? Should any limits be placed on judicial or prosecutorial discretion? To what degree should public officials take into account the impact of the state?s sentencing practices on minority communities and families? When is it appropriate for a court to intervene to improve prison or jail conditions? How can a prison agency be managed effectively when it is operating under court orders? Who are the stakeholders that should play a role in criminal justice policy-decision-making at the state or local level?

Although the course will be focused on Texas? criminal justice policies and practices, we will often refer to the experiences of other states and other countries to examine a range of practices in this field and to explore alternative options for developing policy.

Goals: The goals of the course are to help students begin to appreciate the complexity of these issues; understand how both good and bad policies are developed; understand the financial and social costs of criminal justice policy decisions, recognize the extent to which criminal justice issues have an impact on almost every aspect of government; and explore the relationship between law, constitutional requirements, the administration of justice, and public policy.

Course Materials: Each topic will be examined critically through a wide range of readings, including empirical studies, essays, books, statutes and legal cases, and official reports. The reading load can be heavy at times. We will also try to arrange a visit to a jail or prison to help ground our discussion. (This ?view from the inside? is a highlight of the course.) Finally, we will aim to have some guest speakers, including a judge, a district attorney, a sheriff, and a prison agency official, all of whom have been deeply involved in policy-making in this area.

Course Requirements: This seminar is dependent upon an informed and lively discussion. Students are expected to attend all classes, do all the reading, and come to class with thoughtful comments or questions about their reading assignments. Class participation is critical and will be considered in grading. There will be two short projects intended to be both fun and practical (a policy memo and an Op-Ed piece) that touch directly on the subjects covered in the class, one research paper (20-25 pages) on a topic of the student's choice, and an oral presentation about the research topic.

Return to Spring 2005 Course Schedule