Cornell offers myriad courses relating to criminal justice in numerous departments. We have listed a few below, but this list is by no means extensive. Students interested in learning more about the prison system can also pursue the Crimes, Prisons, Education and Justice minor.
AMST 3121 / GOVT 3121: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
This is a class about the American criminal justice system—from policing to prisons, from arrest to reentry. In many ways, the operation of the modern criminal justice system is taken for granted, which frequently allows it to escape close scrutiny. But we will examine it in great detail, with a focus on how it came about, how it sustains itself, its many roles in society (only some of which involve crime and justice), and how and why it may be changing. NB: This class is designed to challenge your settled assumptions and dearly held myths about what is right and wrong with the system. Those who have made up their mind about criminal justice in America should not take the course.
AMST 3141 / GOVT 3141: PRISONS
The United States stands alone among Western, industrialized countries with its persistent, high rates of incarceration, long sentences, and continued use of the death penalty. This “American exceptionalism” – the turn to mass incarceration – has been fostered by the use of sharply-delineated categories that define vast numbers of people as outlaws and others as law-abiding. These categories that are based on ideas of personal responsibility and assumptions about race are modified somewhat by a liberal commitment to human rights. Our purpose in this course is to understand how such ideas have taken root and to locate the consequences of these ideas for policy and practice.
AMST 4051 / LAW 4051: DEATH PENALTY IN AMERICA
The death penalty has gotten increased media attention due to high profile death row exonerations, and has long been under siege for other reasons, such as racial disparities in its imposition and the prevalence of very poor representation by defense counsel. This course surveys the legal and social issues that arise in the administration of the death penalty. The reading will be largely comprised of reported death penalty cases, but will be augmented by a variety of other sources, including empirical studies of the death penalty and the litigation experience of the professors. Although the focus will be on capital punishment as practiced in the United States, we will also consider international and comparative perspectives. Guest speakers will provide a range of views, and law students with experience working on capital cases will lead discussion sections.
ECON 3255 / PAM 3600: ECONOMICS OF CRIME
This course will focus on economic models of crime and punishment, and on empirical evidence that evaluates the models. The first part of the course will introduce economic models of crime and study what factors motivate and deter criminal behavior. Then we will turn to empirical evidence and will discuss the role of higher fines, imprisonment, death penalty, abortion, drugs, guns and other factors in deterring crime. In the end of the course we will discuss corruption and whether it is harmful or beneficial to society. Special focus of this class is on cost and benefits of various policies related to crime. Each class we will discuss policy implications.
ECON 4250 / GOVT 3242: ECONOMICS OF CRIME AND CORRUPTION
This course will focus on economic models of crime and punishment, and on empirical evidence that evaluates the models. The first part of the course will introduce economic models of crime and study what factors motivate and deter criminal behavior. Then we will turn to empirical evidence and will discuss the role of higher fines, imprisonment, death penalty, abortion, drugs, guns and other factors in deterring crime. In the end of the course we will discuss corruption and whether it is harmful or beneficial to society.
EDUC 3142 / GOVT 3241: DOWN THE SCHOOL TO PRISON TRACK, AND BACK
The "school-to-prison track" refers to policies and practices that facilitate the transfer of students out of the school system and into the prison system (including juvenile detention, county jail, immigration detention centers, or adult prison). This course takes a critical analytical look at the intersections of the prisons and schooling, emphasizing pedagogy, history and policy.
ENGL 3895: REFLECTING ON THE PRISON CLASSROOM
This course offers students a chance to write and reflect intensively on their engagement inside Auburn, Cayuga, Elmira or Five Points Correctional Facilities. We will read essays by incarcerated writers and advocates for change to the criminal legal system, and fiction about prison experience. These readings will provoke our thinking about crime and punishment, confinement and "rehabilitation" and the project of higher education in correctional setting, and inspire our own writing about our motivations and discoveries as in-prison volunteers -- personal, social, educational, political, moral and spiritual.
HD 4390: POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY IN PRISON
"Positive Psychology: Inside (Prison) and Out" is a course in collaboration with the Cornell Prison Education Program and Cayuga Correctional Facility. The course is intended to provide Cornell seniors the opportunity to gain insight into the issues facing incarcerated communities, while also giving incarcerated students access to an engaged education in positive psychology.
HIST 2422: HISTORY OF THE U.S. PRISON
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PMA 4681: CAGES AND CREATIVITY: ARTS IN INCARCERATION
This class explores the increasing presence of all the arts in prisons throughout the country and examines the increasing scholarship surrounding arts programs and their efficacy for incarcerated persons. The course uses video's, archival material, reading material and in-person or Zoom interviews to investigate how and why art is taught in prisons. The class will also look at art produced by incarcerated artists as well as art by those who are still practicing after going home. And finally, the class will explore the increasing scholarship around the impact practicing the arts while incarcerated has on recidivism rates and preparation for re-entry.
SOC 3850: MASS INCARCERATION AND FAMILY LIFE
Given the dramatic rise in mass incarceration over the last 40 years, understanding the spillover consequences of this uniquely American phenomenon has become increasingly important as a growing number of American families have now had direct experience with imprisonment. The goal of this course is to provide a broad overview of the ripple effects of mass imprisonment on family life and how it shapes opportunities and disadvantage for communities, families, and especially children. This will be done through: 1) the close analysis of empirical research on the spillover and intergenerational consequences of incarceration across a range of outcomes, as well as 2) a consideration of broad accounts of how imprisonment affects family life. With the concentration of imprisonment often falling among poor, minority families, much of the readings in this course will focus on family life in urban communities, however, we will spend a little time exploring broader accounts, including those of rural communities and encourage students to consider impacts for families exposed to incarceration due to white-collar crimes.
WRIT 1100: PRISON PARTNERS
This course introduces students to library research and facilitates collaboration with incarcerated students. Students will learn how to search for and gather relevant sources in a variety of online and print formats and complete an annotated bibliography. In addition to finding and evaluating academic materials, students enrolled in this class will be supporting the incarcerated students receiving their Certificate in the Liberal Arts via the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), who otherwise would not have access to academic research materials to complete their capstone projects. By partnering with incarcerated students, students enrolled in the class will collaboratively define and refine a research topic, and share the knowledge they have learned in this class with CPEP students. One-credit for students enrolled in the classroom portion only with an additional credit for those enrolled in the lab portion that requires students to visit a regional correctional facility to meet with their incarcerated student partner.