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HST 352: American InJustice (Deno): The Prison as a Social History of the US: Course Content

This guide serves to assist HST 352 students in navigating various media in order to execute social justice research. It will also support students in various assignments throughout the semester.

Course Description

America, home of the free? Today some 4.8 million U.S. adults are on probation or parole, another 2.267 million are in prison, with almost 71,000 juveniles in correctional facilities. No other nation has imprisoned so many of its citizens or has such a large prison industrial complex. This course examines the growth of the prison industrial complex starting at the end of Reconstruction to the present. We will examine prison records [institutional and prisoner generated] as well as the writings, music, and poetry and art produced by prisoners. Topics include shifting approaches to justice including parole and indeterminate sentencing as well as the rise of criminology; the growth of privatized prisons and other efforts to monetize prison and prisoners; the school to prison pipeline; and race, gender, and class biases in charging and sentencing; and the influence of ‘prison’ culture and aesthetics, and among other topics.

This course examines multiple axes of identity and oppression [race, gender, sexuality, poverty law/poor justice, etc.] in order to understand the phenomenal historical occurrence of the Prison Industrial Complex [PIC]. It interrogates the economic and political framings that have produced the PIC and the ‘criminals’ needed to keep the behemoth afloat by thinking about the ever-expanding reach of the carceral system and the growing phalanx of laws that work to maneuver an increasing number of people into the system.


US Constitution

Article 1, Section 9: Writ of Habeas Corpus ensures that no one can be legally detained without charges.

Article III, Section 2: “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment; shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.”

5th Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

6th Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

8th Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

13th Amendment, Section 1: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

14th Amendment, Section 1 [Equal Protection Clause]: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

Suggested Readings


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