Fall 2009

Historical Perspectives on Criminal Justice and the U.S. Economy

Listed in: History, as HIST-48


Martha Saxton (Section 01)


[US] This course will look at the development of our penal system and place it in the context of the economic and political development of the U.S. We will begin with the introduction of the penitentiary in the antebellum period at a time of extraordinary economic expansion and optimism about social institutions. After the Civil War we will look at changing ideas of criminal control as rapid industrialization in the North and large waves of immigration produced labor unrest and unprecedented urban poverty. We also explore the convict-lease system in the post-emancipation “New South” after the abandonment of hopes for Reconstruction. We will look at Progressives’ creation of the juvenile justice system at the turn of the century as well as ideas linking criminality with heredity. The course will conclude by examining the current boom in prison populations and place this growth in the context of our post-industrial economy and growing economic inequality. The course will be conducted inside a correctional facility and enroll an equal number of Amherst students and residents of the facility. Permission to enroll will be granted on the basis of a questionnaire and personal interview with the instructor. Amherst students studying the philosophical and material development of the penal system within the Northampton jail in the company of incarcerated men will get the benefit of their fellow students’ personal experience of that system. The setting creates the unique pedagogical opportunity to bring together the two perspectives. One class meeting per week.

Admission with consent of the instructor.  Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor Saxton.

If Overenrolled: Enrollment only after consent of instructor.


Community Based Learning


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2010