Prison Law and Policy
Courses in criminal law tend to focus on the “front end” of the criminal justice process: investigation, prosecution, and verdict. But for those people sentenced to prison, the trial process is only the preamble to an extended period in the custody of the state. This class focuses in depth on a key component of the “back end” of the criminal justice system: the law and policy of incarceration. The governing inquiry is the nature of the legal obligations the state has toward those it incarcerates. This question is particularly urgent given the number of people being held in American prisons and jails (close to 2 million at last count) and the overrepresentation in this group of people of color, African Americans in particular. Topics to be covered include the history of prisoners’ rights litigation; the scope of prisoners’ constitutional rights; the right of access to the courts; the prison disciplinary process; conditions of confinement (including solitary confinement); medical care (including the institutional (non)response to COVID); sexual violence, excessive force, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Please note: no laptops or other devices may be used in this class. Regular attendance and class participation are expected.