Fall 2023 - 61105 - PA 388K - Advanced Research in Criminal Justice: Correctional Culture Change

Advanced Research in Criminal Justice: Correctional Culture Change

Spring 2023

PA 388K—Advanced Research in Criminal Justice:

Correctional Culture Change

Prof. Michele Deitch


Course Description


Course Overview


This course will involve intensive team research projects to identify and catalogue positive culture change developments in prisons and jails across the United States. While correctional institutions remain dangerous places that harm the people who live and work inside them, there are pockets of good things happening in an effort to shift the culture of these facilities and provide a safer and healthier environment. For example, there are a number of prisons that have been trying to implement innovative practices modeled on the Scandinavian correctional system. Other agencies have begun prison arts programs or prisoner-run radio stations, to mention just a few of these kinds of changes. The goal of this project is to track down these types of initiatives, both large and small, and to gather information about them in a single detailed public-facing database so as to enable other jurisdictions, policy-makers, and advocates to be inspired and to use these initiatives as models for change. Our efforts to elevate these initiatives will also serve to support correctional leaders who are trying out new ways to help improve the correctional environment, an uphill battle for many of these directors.


This project is being conducted in collaboration with the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab (PJIL) at the LBJ School. PJIL is a national policy resource center focused on ways to improve the safe and humane treatment of people in custody. Course instructors Michele Deitch and Alycia Welch serve, respectively, as Director and Associate Director of PJIL. The database that our class will be preparing will be published on an online resource website that PJIL is developing.


The first few weeks of the course will involve substantive classes and a few 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. Teams will likely each consist of three or four students. Students will be investigating practices all over the country, and will have the opportunity to speak with experts and practitioners as part of their research.


Although this is considered an “advanced” class, there is no prerequisite for the course.  However, students should be prepared to engage in substantial research and writing, and should be comfortable working in teams on a significant project. While a background in criminal justice or corrections is not required for the class, it would certainly be helpful.


Learning Objectives


Through this class, students will develop skills in conceptualizing, conducting, and completing a significant research project that will be of use to policymakers, corrections practitioners, journalists, and advocates. They will learn how to research and write for a policy audience, and will learn about positive developments in correctional administration and management. Students will also improve their teamwork and project management skills.  


Course Requirements and Grading


Students are expected to attend all classes and team meetings, participate fully in the group work activities, submit work to their teammates in a timely manner, and produce work products that are well-written, accurate, and responsive to the assignments. Each team will produce a variety of work products, including a spreadsheet with details about their findings, short write-ups about each initiative, short reports about the types of initiatives identified, and possibly some other documents as well. Teams may also be asked to conduct an oral briefing about their research.


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 as well as an assessment of their fellow team members’ participation in the group work.


This course is cross-listed between the LBJ School and the Law School, which will allow for an interdisciplinary approach to this topic.




Instruction Mode