PA 388K—Advanced Research in Criminal Justice: Deaths in Custody
Prof. Michele Deitch
This course will involve intensive team research projects focused on various aspects of deaths in custody investigations. Deaths in prisons and jails are sadly all too common and have drawn significant media attention in recent years. A Congressional subcommittee also held an important hearing on this topic in September 2022, which has focused policy attention on the failures of correctional agencies to properly report all deaths in custody to the federal government.
Our class will be researching national practices about three important aspects of deaths in custody: how investigations of deaths in custody are handled and by whom; public reporting requirements regarding these deaths; and requirements for notifying families about deaths of their loved ones. We will not actually be investigating any of these cases ourselves.
The goal is to produce research and policy documents that will help inform policymakers, practitioners, and advocates about best practices and necessary changes to the way that deaths in custody are handled in order to advance changes to policy and practice that ensure proper investigations of these deaths, learn lessons that can prevent future deaths, provide more transparency about these occurrences, and show more respect for the families of those who have died.
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 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 first few weeks of the course will involve substantive classes and a few short 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 four students. Students will look both nationally and internationally for guidance on best practices, 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.
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 an important function of corrections management that goes to the heart of what it means to keep people in custody safe. 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 short report, a one-pager, and possibly some other documents as well, and may 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.