C LIT 240 B: Crimes and Punishments
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We often call the United States of America the "Land of the Free," considering freedom to be our main virtue. At the same time, while less than 5% of the world population lives in the US, our prisons contain almost 25% of the total world prison population, or about 2.2 million people. While this high rate of imprisonment has been an issue since at least the 1980s, during the past few years it has gotten more attention. Recently, the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the subsequent protests, the death of Sandra Bland in Texas jail in summer of 2015, and other events all raise serious concerns about our criminal justice system. As a result, over the past couple of months President Barak Obama has been calling for a prison reform, presidential candidate hopefuls for the next election have been talking about it, and even Pope Francis has made it an important aspect of his first visit to the US in September 2015.
We will join this conversation about the criminal justice system and the ethics of punishment in general. These are weighty issues, in some cases ones we have been dealing with for millennia, so we probably will not arrive at any solutions in this class. Nevertheless, engaging with them is crucial for considering other possibilities of organizing our society.
- Roxane Gay, An Untamed State (Black Cat, 2014)
- China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (Del Rey, 2001)
- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (Harper Perennial, 2014)
Content warning: The texts for this class, especially Roxane Gay's An Untamed State, include descriptions of sexual assault and other violence.