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LAW 241A: Discussion (1L): Why is the USA Exceptional -- In Crime and Punishment?

It has long been a national controversy, and for many a international embarrassment, that the imprisonment rate in this country stands at the very top among nations (currently just behind) and several multipoles higher than other developed industrialized democracies. And for many years it has been almost a cliché that we also have an internationally anomalously high crime rate; crime gap between us and our "peer nations" has narrowed in recent years but is still remarkable, at least for violent crime. In the course we will read and an interdisciplinary set of explorations about whether there are things in "national DNA" that explain each of these phenomena and possibly both at once. The perspectives will include the political history of our roots in both revolution and slavery and the legacy of Reconstruction, an d cultural/anthropological theories about the "frontier mentality," as well as such distinct factors as our anomalous rate of gun ownership. Along all these dimensions we will speculate on which way the causation runs between crime or punishment and these various correlates.. But of course we will also look to the legal system, including our rights- and federalism-focused Constitution, as both cause and effect of our anomalies. While we will look at some more quantitively empirical perspectives, especially as they bear on recent changes in both crime and punishment rates, our main subject will be more of an "American Studies" approach to the undeniable overall stability of how we compare to other nations. This discussion seminar will meet four times during the Fall quarter. Meeting dates and times to be arranged by instructor. Elements used in grading: Attendance and class participation.
Terms: Aut | Units: 1
Instructors: ; Weisberg, R. (PI)
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