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Georgetown University


Detailed Course Information


Fall 2017
Oct 18, 2018
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GOVT 391 - Ethics & Public Policy
The novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky once remarked that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” What then could we say of mass imprisonment in the United States, a nation with five percent of the world’s population yet twenty-five percent of its prisoners? How should we understand American democracy if one in twenty-three adults are under some form of state supervision, if one in ten children have had a parent incarcerated, or if one in three black men born today will enter prison at some point?
In this seminar we will study the ethical and political dimensions of public policy by focusing on the history, institutions and ideas of American incarceration. Students can expect to read broadly from political science and theory, history, sociology, and from the testimonies of those living within, working for, or acting against the carceral state. Our goal for the course will be to develop critical skills in analyzing the policies of incarceration according to the concepts of justice we find in history, law, and society. As such, we will be less concerned with whether mass imprisonment is “just” or “unjust” but how it determines justice and what it reveals about the democracy in which we live and act. Though topics may vary, we will likely address subjects such as the historical background of incarceration, the goals and methods of the prison (e.g. rehabilitation, deterrence, capital punishment, solitary confinement), the incarcerated as citizen (e.g. disenfranchisement, reentry programs, labor, race, gender, immigration), and steps toward changing the carceral state (e.g. arguments for reform, abolition, or reparations).

3.000 Credit hours
3.000 Lecture hours
0.000 Lab hours

Levels: MN or MC Graduate, Undergraduate
Schedule Types: Lecture, Seminar

Government Department

Course Attributes:
Mean Grade is Calculated

GOVT 080 or GOVT 117 or PHIL 099

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