University of Miami School of Law Course Description - Online System
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Spring 2018

Course Description
We will examine criminal justice reform from two trajectories: the harms to individuals, families, and neighborhoods of mass incarceration and punitive criminal justice responses; the failures of governmental policies to provide security for communities and support for victims of crime, with a focus on violent crime.

Mass Incarceration and Punitive Policies
With approximately two million people behind bars, the U.S. leads the world in the percentage of people behind bars. In addition to those incarcerated, another five million people are under the control of the criminal justice system. Incarceration rates are marked by shocking racial disparities. African American women are imprisoned at a rate nearly three times that of white women. Though African Americans are about 13% of the U.S. population, nearly 40% of male prisoners and 25% of female prisoners are African Americans. This course will examine research and theory on the causes of U.S. mass incarceration and its differential racial impact. We will examine the role of politics and law—legislation and Supreme Court decisions—on creating mass incarceration.

The harms of mass incarceration and punitive criminal policies are borne not only by those who face criminal penalties, but by their families and entire neighborhoods. We will examine interdisciplinary sources for understanding those harms, with a particular focus on gendered harms.

We will further examine the numerous reform efforts and proposals aimed at reducing sentencing length and creating alternatives to incarceration. These reforms include sentencing rollback legislation in a number of states, limits on prosecutorial discretion, and the introduction of alternatives to incarceration including Restorative Justice measures and problem solving courts.

Forgotten Victims and Communities
Much of public discourse presumes that victims of crime prefer punishment over rehabilitation for offenders, but a significant body of literature demonstrates that victims vary dramatically in what they want to happen to an offender. Many crime victims prefer rehabilitation over punishment and research on Restorative Justice (RJ) demonstrates that victims have higher rates of satisfaction in RJ than in the ordinary criminal justice processing. Further, research and experience demonstrate that too often the response of police and prosecutors varies with the social identity of the victim. Communities of color and victims of color are ill-served by police who themselves pose risks of violence. Research also demonstrates significant problems of police and prosecutorial bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, language, class, immigration status, sexual identity and sexual orientation. Finally, research also finds that crime prevention is better served by changing the social inequalities of poverty that render people vulnerable to violent crime. National organizations that serve victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault (SA) are examining their commitments to criminal justice remedies, in light of these failures.

Reform: National and Florida - A number of reform initiatives are under consideration by the Florida legislature; a state-wide RJ organization and local south Florida activists are pushing for the increased use of RJ in juvenile cases and in schools; a coalition involving Florida ACLU and the Miami office of the Southern Poverty Law Center has formed to push for criminal justice reform; a national organization supporting reform is organizing in Florida. The course will examine these initiatives as well as data regarding Florida’s incarceration rates.

Students will learn 1) skills in understanding empirical research; 2) skills in examining social problems from the standpoint of stakeholders and how to engage in power mapping and community change strategy; 3) the role that lawyers play in policy reform and in support for issue campaigns; 4) the direct and indirect causes of mass incarceration; 5) the intersecting nature of power and social identities in understanding the criminal justice system responses to crime; 5) how to assess the impact of legislative and administrative change. The practicum work will be defined, in part, by evolving needs and assessments.

Course Schedule
Dates Day Time Room
01-16-2018 - 04-25-2018   T  3:30 PM-5:20 PM A110A

Course Frequency

Course Information

Credits: 2
Pass/Fail Option: No
Corequisite: Students enrolled in the seminar class may choose to co-enroll in an accompanying 2 credit practicum. Enrollment in the practicum is by application. (Contact Professor Coker (, copy with the subject line: “Criminal Justice Reform Practicum” for more information).
Grading: Graded
Method of Evaluation: 1)class presentations; 2) exam over the seminar materials; 3) professionalism as defined by regular class attendance and prepared class participation.
Graduation Requirements Fulfilled By Course: None
Special Attributes: None
Special Restrictions:
Law Track(s): None
Bar Subject(s):
Concentration(s): None
Course Book(s): TBD/None      
First Class Assignment(s): TBD/None



Contact Information:
Phone: (305)284-3041
Office: G383