Fall 2017

The American Prison

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-273

Moodle site: Course


Thomas A. Dichter (Section 01)


The United States currently keeps more of its own citizens behind bars than any other country. While the US’s emergence as the global leader in incarceration rates is a relatively recent development, the prison has loomed large in American public life for 200 years. In this course, we will approach the prison not as a marginal phenomenon, but as an institution central to American culture. We will examine works of literature by and about prisoners alongside an expansive historical archive that includes reformers’ pamphlets, sociological studies, government reports, and inmate manifestos. Over the years, American prisons have been variously described as models of innovation and reform, as hotbeds of unrest and rebellion, as vestiges of slavery, and as vital components in the wars on drugs, crime and terror. These evolving debates about imprisonment have also continually raised questions about what it means to be “free” in America. This interdisciplinary course will trace those debates from the early days of the penitentiary through our present era of mass incarceration.

Limited to 30 students.  Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Dichter.

If Overenrolled: Priority will go to LJST majors & students with personal, family or experiences with the prison system


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Race


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017