Spring 2006 Course Description

Advanced Topics in Public Policy

Section Title: Prisons and Human Rights
Instructor(s): Michele Deitch
Course: P A 388K - Advanced Topics in Public Policy
(previously Seminar in Topics in Public Policy)
Unique Number: 62510
Day & Time: Mondays, 2:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Room: SRH 3.111
Waitlist Information:For LBJ Students: UT Waitlist Information

This course fulfills requirements for the following specialization(s):

Description: Prisons and Human Rights

Prisons have a fascinating hold on the public imagination, but so much of what is believed about prisons bears little resemblance to reality. The ?country club? mythology may have been debunked by the horrors of Abu Ghraib, but neither extreme is representative of American corrections today. Still, our nation?s prisons are closed institutions that resist transparency and accountability, leaving them susceptible to an array of human rights violations.

Using a wide variety of interdisciplinary resources, we will examine the nature of prison and imprisonment policies in the United States today, and will explore the challenges presented for policy-makers, corrections officials, and reformers. We will examine the constant balancing act between security considerations and prisoners? rights, and ask difficult questions about how human rights can be protected in a closed environment. Texas?s prison policies and practices will be emphasized, but we will often refer to the experiences of other states and other countries to examine a range of practices in this field and to explore alternative options for developing policy.

The seminar will be coordinated with a major international conference that will take place at UT in late April. That conference will bring together some of the world?s top experts on prison oversight to discuss a variety of international and domestic models for enhancing transparency and accountability of prisons. Some of the work produced by students will be distributed to conference attendees as resource materials, and students will help prepare the conference proceedings.

Course Materials and Prison Visit: Each topic will be examined critically through a wide range of readings, including social science studies, essays, books, statutes and legal cases, and official reports. We will also try to arrange a visit to a jail or prison to help ground our discussion. (This ?view from the inside? is a highlight of the course.)

Course Requirements: This seminar is dependent upon an informed and lively discussion. Students are expected to attend all classes, do all the reading, and come to class with thoughtful comments or questions about their reading assignments. Class participation is critical and will be considered in grading.

The course will be heavily research-oriented, and students will be given two practical research assignments that will be immediately helpful to practitioners in the field. There will be one group research project and one individual research paper. The group project will involve either an extensive literature review or a state survey on independent prison oversight mechanisms that will provide background materials for the conference. For the individual research project, each student will be required to write an analytical paper of 10-15 pages addressing a current issue raised by the American Bar Association?s draft standards on prison legal issues. Each student will also make an oral presentation about the individual research topic. In addition to the research projects, students are expected to submit an ungraded journal entry about their responses to the prison visit.

Finally, students are expected to attend as much of the conference as possible, and will be assigned to write the proceedings for specified conference sessions.

Conference Website: "Opening Up a Closed World: What Constitutes Effective Prison Oversight?"

Return to Spring 2006 Course Schedule