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The Philosophy of Punishment, Topics in Social and Political Philosophy(361-0-20)


Jennifer Amy Lackey
Kresge 3-423

Meeting Info

Online: Tues, Thurs, 12:30PM - 1:50PM

Overview of class

The United States is currently home to 5% of the world's population, but 25% of its prisoners. With more than 2.3 million people under the control of the American criminal legal system, the United States has more total
incarcerated people than any other country in the world. Moreover, the United States has one of the most punitive approaches to criminal justice, imposing lengthy prison sentences, forcing people who are incarcerated to spend years?sometimes even decades?in solitary confinement, and providing very few educational, vocational, and
recreational programs in prisons.

Punishment and incarceration also disproportionately impact people of color. African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites. While African Americans and Hispanics make up about
32% of the US population, they constitute 56% of the incarcerated population.

This course will use a philosophical lens to examine the causes and consequences of this crisis of mass incarceration in the United States, along with possible solutions to it, with a particular emphasis on the theories of punishment grounding our criminal legal system and, thus, our prisons. The course will be small and will have a seminar-style format. Enrollment will be limited to 10-12 Northwestern students from our Evanston campus and 10-12 incarcerated students who have been admitted into the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP students). Because of the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, the NPEP students will participate via written correspondence.

Learning Objectives

The learning objectives of the students enrolled in this course include:

? To evaluate the causes and consequences of the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States.
? To understand competing theories of punishment and to assess whether any support the criminal legal system in the United States.
? To be able to identify the connections between incarceration, race, and poverty.
? To collaborate with other students in the course and to combine scholarship on punishment and incarceration with the firsthand experience that NPEP students have with these phenomena.
? To develop solutions to the crisis of mass incarceration, both theoretical and practical.

Evaluation Method

Weekly reading reports, group work, a midterm paper, a final paper, and class participation.

Class Materials (Required)


Class Notes

Final paper.

Class Attributes

Hybrid: Remote component and in-person mtgs

Enrollment Requirements

Enrollment Requirements: Registration restricted to Undergraduate students only
Add Consent: Instructor Consent Required