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Spring 2019
Mar 24, 2019
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GOVX 400 - Prison Reform Project
 GOVX 400: Prison Reform Project (Spring 2019)

This 5-credit course is intended for a small number of passionate and highly-motivated students. The class will not have readings, papers, or exams. Instead, students will spend an intensive semester as investigative journalists, documentarians, and social justice activists, with the goal of creating a public documentary (in addition to a website and social media campaign) that makes the case for the innocence of a wrongfully convicted person who is currently languishing in prison. Students will leave campus regularly, perhaps even travel to different parts of the country (all travel expenses will be covered by the class), as they reinvestigate the crime and conviction and seek to portray the main issues, challenges, injustices, and human stories involved in each case.

The course will be co-taught by Professor Marc Howard and his childhood friend, Adjunct Professor Marty Tankleff, who was himself wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for almost 18 years before being exonerated.

The class is scheduled for Fridays 9:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Although we will not always meet as a full group for that full block of time, students must keep their Fridays open, free from other classes or regular commitments. Students will be meeting and working together within smaller groups, and consulting with the professors, on a regular basis throughout the semester.

The output for the course—which will be prepared by several teams of students working closely together—will include the production of short documentaries that are humanizing portraits of the lives, families, and complicated legal cases of five people who were likely wrongfully convicted. The students will pick their top five cases out of approximately ten that the instructors will bring forward. At the end of the semester, the students will present their final documentaries at a larger public event hosted by the Prisons and Justice Initiative.

The course will be restricted to a maximum of 15 Georgetown students, to be selected by the professors. Priority will be given to those students who have a strong academic or practical background in this area, along with a passion for the issue of wrongful convictions and criminal justice reform. Having a background in investigative journalism and/or video production is a bonus, but not a requirement.

Note that a TV production crew will most likely be filming the class for the purpose of creating a multi-episode documentary series. The series will cover the efforts and activities of the Georgetown students as they profile the five wrongfully convicted individuals, with the hope of generating sufficient public support to reopen their cases and eventually secure their freedom and release. The series will also incorporate the raw footage of the students’ interviews and filming, thereby covering both the human stories and the students’ pursuit of justice.

Interested students should submit an application to Professor Howard at mmh@georgetown.edu by Wednesday, November 14 at 5pm, with the subject line "GOVX 400 application." The application should consist of a brief cover letter, a resume, an unofficial transcript, and a 3-minute webcam video in which students explain why they want to take the course and what they have to offer, while also providing any background information that may be relevant or helpful. By submitting the videos, students consent to have parts of them used for the documentary, if they are selected for the course. Final decisions will be made shortly after the deadline. (Note that students who are applying to take this course do not need to list it in their preregistration requests, since the enrollment process will happen separately and selected students will be enrolled directly by the professor and the Registrar.)

Background Note: this course is part of a recently-created line of courses in the Department of Government (designated as GOVX) that follow a non-traditional structure and format, based on different methods and schedules of instruction and learning. The Spring 2016 course involved extended class meetings and interactions with a group of incarcerated individuals, leading to a major public event and the cover story of the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. The Spring 2017 version focused on societal reentry, as Georgetown students worked with people who had recently returned from prison and were adjusting to free society. The Spring 2018 course focused on wrongful convictions, and it has already resulted in the exoneration and release of Valentino Dixon, while also providing significant progress in the legal prospects of Kenneth Bond, Tim Wright, and John Moss III.  

5.000 Credit hours
5.000 Lecture hours

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

Government Department

Course Attributes:
Mean Grade is Calculated

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