The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In 1980, approximately 500,000 people were behind bars in this country. Now, even after significant pandemic-related decarceration, the figure approaches 2 million (nearly two-thirds of whom are non-white), locked up in jails, state prisons, and federal prisons. This course will examine both constitutional law and statutory law relevant to their incarceration. The central topics are the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments and its Fourteenth Amendment analog, and Congress’s regulation of prison-related litigation in the Prison Litigation Reform Act. We’ll also examine First Amendment and related statutory rights behind bars, the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act within prisons and jails, solitary and supermax confinement, race discrimination inside jails and prison, and the law of injunctive relief in constitutional cases brought by incarcerated people. (We will not discuss criminal procedure, habeas corpus, or sentencing.) This course is for anyone interested in civil rights, criminal prosecution, or criminal defense.
A one-credit Colloquium will be open to anyone in the main class; it will include a jail visit plus five class meetings of 2 hours each. Colloquium students will be linked up to lawyers and advocacy organizations working on prison or jail litigation, and will assist them by performing legal research and writing.