Advanced Research in Criminal Justice: COVID and Corrections
Course Overview This course is a one-semester, group research project about the devastating impact of the COVID crisis on Texas prisons and jails. Texas has had more COVID deaths in custody than any other state, and these deaths are a reflection of significant policy failures. Our project will document the lives of the people who have died and will examine whether these deaths were preventable. We will also assess racial, gender, and age inequities in the patterns of these deaths. In addition to tracking down as much information as we can about these individuals, we will review the policy recommendations made by advocates and experts at the start of the crisis and over the course of recent months, and the ways in which public officials responded. Our project will provide a contemporaneous record of how the pandemic has impacted people in custody, bearing witness to this massive loss of life and to the policy response. This topic will likely be high on the legislative agenda next session, so our work could help inform legislative proposals in Texas and beyond. Our report may also lead to changes in how prisons and jails manage the COVID crisis in the months to come. There is a good chance our report may generate state and national media attention. The first couple of weeks of the course will involve substantive discussions and assigned readings to provide students with the necessary background for their research project. After that, the class will function more informally, with regular meetings between student teams and the instructor to ensure ongoing progress. All classes, team meetings, and office hours will be conducted online. Although this is an “advanced” class, there is no prerequisite for the course. However, students will benefit from having had prior exposure to criminal justice issues. Students interested in registering should speak with the instructor as soon as possible to ensure it is a good fit for them. Our work is urgent and important, but please note that the subject matter of our research project involves extremely sad personal stories that some people may find traumatizing. Learning Objectives Through this class, students will develop skills in conceptualizing a significant research project that will be of immediate interest to policymakers, corrections practitioners, journalists, and advocates. Students will improve their skills in gathering hard-to-find information through online research, open records requests, review of databases, and interviews. They will learn how to research and write for a policy audience on a high-profile issue; will familiarize themselves with key issues in corrections operations and management that affect the rights and safety of people in custody; and will better understand how advocates champion certain policy proposals. Students will also improve their teamwork and project management skills. Course Requirements and Grading Students will produce a team-authored research report. Students are expected to attend all online classes and team meetings, participate fully in the group work activities, submit work to their teammates in a timely manner, and use their best efforts to produce a work product that is well-written, accurate, and responsive to the assignments. Students will be graded on the basis of the quality of their individual contributions to the group project, the overall group project (a team grade), and on class participation. Students will also be asked to submit a self-assessment and a reflection essay. Co-Instructor Prof. Deitch will be assisted by a co-instructor, Alycia Welch, for this class. Ms. Welch, an LBJ School and School of Social Work dual degree graduate, has been working closely with Prof. Deitch on a number of projects related to COVID and Corrections, and helped teach a Policy Research Project with Prof. Deitch last year.