Race, Class, Gender and Crime

Syllabus PDF

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

James Baldwin

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere 

Martin Luther King, JR.

This course examines the construction and enforcement of law and punishment through the intersecting lenses of racism, sexism, and classism. We will engage in a critical assessment of the flaws of the criminal justice system in the United States. We will first look at how race, class, and gender are defined, how they intersect, and how they play a central role throughout the criminal justice process. We will then more specifically focus on specific contemporary problems related to crime and punishment. Finally, we’ll look at social movements and advocacy groups and their alternative visions and proposals to transform the way we think of and enact justice, punishment, and prevention.

Learning Objectives

Completion of this course will allow you to:

  • Describe and critically engage with basic mechanisms of inequality within the criminal justice system.
  • Understand the ways in which race, gender, and class affect the application of (in)justice.
  • Understand the role of prisons as industry and as an agent of social control.
  • Be able to situate the historical roots of the contemporary carceral state and the persisting inequalities.
  • Understand the power of the media and ideology in the construction of criminals.
  • Develop critical creative tools to envision justice beyond the current hegemonic narrative.

Class Climate and Guiding Principles

It is my goal that you should all feel comfortable drawing on your own experiences in this class as well as the course material. I also believe that each of you is capable of contributing a unique and useful perspective from which others can learn.  The material covered in this class will hit home with many of you in a variety of ways. I ask you to keep in mind your own and others’ possible personal investments in the class content/ issues, to treat one another with respect regardless of views expressed, to allow one another to finish stating thoughts, and to keep your minds open to new ways of thinking. If you have a problem with class interaction at any time, please let me know.

In a safe learning environment, folks feel respected, they show interest in others’ thoughts by actively listening and offering constructive feedback, and strive to debate, not dominate, during class discussions. We are all responsible for creating an atmosphere that is non-disruptive & conducive to learning.

1)    Students and professor must develop a foundation of respect and trust.  Remember that we all speak with good intentions.

2)    Students and professor should feel able to speak from personal experience when relevant, trusting that other class members will treat this as confidential information.

3)    Students and professor should feel comfortable asking “silly” questions.  We all bring different cultural capital and knowledge gaps to the discussion.

4)    Students and professor should feel comfortable with respectful disagreement; we will learn more from a discussion of many dissenting viewpoints than from a simple consensus.

5)    Try to focus your discussion on broader society, social theory, and course concepts.

6)    The discussion is usually more stimulating when many people are involved, thus I ask for your help in trying to get everyone to contribute.

7)    Respect and welcome all political and ideological perspectives and give them fair and critical consideration.

8)    In order to keep everybody focused on class discussions.

Course Policies

  1. Do not use your phones, iPods, tablets, or other electronic gadgets during class (including for text messaging or checking the web for something). If you do so, I will ask you to stop once. Then I will ask you to leave the classroom.
  2. I do not allow laptop use during class. If a student has a reason that s/he believes s/he must use a laptop during class, please talk to me privately about this. To use a laptop every day, I must receive a letter from campus letting me know that you need to use a laptop every day. However, if such a letter is provided and I approve it, using your laptop for anything other than taking notes may result in you not being able to use it anymore.
  3. Students are responsible for regularly checking their e-mails from me and Canvas for announcements.
  4. You are expected to come on time and to stay until the end of the allotted period unless you have excused yourself ahead of time. Students coming and going during class time is distracting for the whole class. You do not need to raise your hand to use the restroom.
  5. Become familiar with the Canvas website immediately. If there are technical problems, please call ITS at 303-735-4357.


I do not take attendance. Yet, you are expected to attend every single class. Writing responses are worth a total 20% of your final grade and cannot be made up unless you have a justified absence and you contacted me before class.

Teaching Delivery

This class will incorporate several teaching methods. Each of these methods is important to the learning process in this course. Some of the more common methods to be used in this class are as follows.

Lectures: Traditional lecture will be used to assure that all students are fully aware of the information the professor wishes the students to grasp. Unless exception, I will not post my slides online.

Guest Lectures: Multiple guest speakers (TBD) are scheduled to join us during the semester. The guest lectures are to be highly regarded. A handout will be distributed that day, to be returned at the beginning of the following class. The handout will be graded.

 Films and Videos: Films and videos will be shown throughout the course to provide visually interpretive examples for several course topics. These screenings are to be treated as lectures for the course and should be taken as serious subject matter.

Class & Group Discussions: Even though the class is fairly large, students are strongly encouraged to participate in discussion of the daily topics by providing their insights and asking questions for clarification or rhetorical contemplation. Discussion will be conducted in small groups and as a whole class.

iClickers: You will be required to purchase an iclicker for this course and bring it to every class session (note: you also should always carry an extra set of batteries). If you do not already own an iClicker and cannot borrow one, they are available for purchase at the CU Bookstore. Your iClicker has a number that needs to be registered online and linked to your student ID number. You can register your iClicker online at myCUinfo (not at the iClicker website) by the second week of class. NOTE: You are responsible for bringing a functioning iclicker to each class. If your batteries run out or your iclicker breaks during class, you will not be awarded clicker points for that day.


This class requires you to read, sometimes a lot. If you don’t like reading or don’t want to, you shouldn’t take this class. You can be a fast reader or a slow one, have a lot of interest and time for the class, or not, but you will need to make the time, develop fast reading strategies, and read the assigned material. Furthermore, while reading, you need to take notes: write down key words and concepts for each paper, the author’s argument, the cornerstone information. Keep brief, simple, and organized notes about what you read. If you read and don’t write anything you are wasting your time. Bring the reading and/or your notes to class so that you can engage with them during lecture.

You also need to take notes during class. Note taking means more than passively copying the content of the slides I project. Slides are often titles meant to organize my lecture. Most often they are not content. Make good use of your time and take notes, when you read, watch a movie, listen to a podcast or seat in lecture.

Graded work

Your final grade will consist of:

  • Writing Responses (10*10 points): These are short (a few sentences, a couple paragraph at the most) answers written at the beginning of a class, answering a question about one or all of the readings and/or movies/podcasts assigned for that week.
  • Book analysis (200 points): You will choose (on the syllabus) a book you are particularly interested in and write a 4-6page double-spaced essay about it. This can be done at any time throughout the last third of the semester (week 10-16) and will be submitted on Canvas. See the guideline posted online for more information about how to organize your essay. Due on Canvas by Sunday, December 16th
  • Guest-speaker reflections (50 points each): You will turn in a reflection after each guest speaker’s presentation. Reflections are 2page double spaced essays critically engaging with the speaker’s work and presentation. I will post a guideline online detailing what you can include in your essay. Reflections are to be turned in within a week, on Canvas.

Comments on grading

I do not grade on a curve. Your final grade will reflect your success in demonstrating your knowledge of the material. To do well in this class, most of you will need to work hard and apply sustained effort over the course of the semester. That said, working hard does not guarantee an “A”. Your final grade is based on the points you have earned throughout the semester. If you find that you are not doing as well as you would like in the course, please come talk to me as soon as possible. There will be no additional extra-credit at the end of the semester to boost low grades.

If you feel that you have been given an unfair grade on an assignment, you need to write a one-page response as to why you would like to appeal the grade and hand it to me no more than one week after you received the grade. When appealing the grade, you need to be aware that the grade can be raised or lowered. Therefore, I only advise you to appeal grades if you feel there is a very clear miscalculation. You are responsible for keeping all materials that have been graded and returned to you. If you cannot provide these materials, your grade cannot be appealed. University policy prohibits discussions of grades over email to protect your privacy. If you want to discuss your grade, please come to office hours or make an appointment with me.

Writing Responses100
Guest Speaker Reflections200
Book analysis200

Book analysis:

This is the most important assignment of the semester, worth 40% of your final grade. Detailed instructions will be discussed in class and posted on Canvas. You will choose between one of the following nine books and write a 4-6page (double-spaced) analysis of it.

Alexander, Michelle. 2012. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.

Goffman, Alice. 2015. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Picador.

Lopez, Vera. 2017. Complicated Lives: Girls, Parents, Drugs, and Juvenile Justice. Rutgers University Press.

Richie, Beth. 2012. Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation. NYU Press.

Rios, Victor M. 2011. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys. NYU Press.

Sered, Susan Starr and Maureen Norton-Hawk. 2014. Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility. Univ of California Press.

Stevenson, Bryan. 2015. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. Spiegel & Grau.

Van Cleve, Nicole Gonzalez. 2016. Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court. Stanford University Press.

Wacquant, Loïc JD. 2009. Prisons of Poverty. Vol. 23. U of Minnesota Press

Tentative Course Schedule

WeekClass DatesClass TopicReadings/Podcasts(*) Guest SpeakersAssignments
18/27-29IntroductionCorrectional populations

Prisoners in 2016

Hidden Brain #50*

29/05Race and Criminal JusticeKendi 2018

Martin Luther King 1963

Tim Wise #24*

39/10-12Class and Criminal JusticeBrownstein 2000

Steffensmeier 1998

49/17-19Gender and Criminal JusticeFriedman 2015

Incarcerated Women

Belknap 2006

59/24-26Intersectionality and Criminal JusticeSharkey 2018

Benson (Intro) 1990

Benson (Conclusion) 1990

Roberts 2012

610/1-3Whalley 2017

Gruber 2012

Alderden 2012

Oct. 3rd,

Pr. Aya Gruber, CU Boulder, Law School.

710/8-10The War on DrugGaskins 2004

Lopez 2017

Miller 2013

Reinarman 1997

Guest Speaker reflection #1 due on Canvas Oct. 10, 4pm
810/15-17The war on PovertyWacquant 2001

The Ezra Klein show, May 28, 2018*

Covert 2018

910/22-24#BLM & #SayHerNameHarris 2018

Taylor 2018

Orbe 2018

By Wed. 24th commit to the book you will write about. In class, turn in a one paragraph note explaining how and why you chose this book.
1010/29-31Death PenaltyCapital Punishment 2014-15

Radelet 2016

Segura 2018

Oct. 29

Pr. Radelet, CU Boulder Sociology

1111/5-7Mass Incarceration and the New Jim Crow

Neoliberalism and Justice

Justice in America, #3*

Bauer 2016

Guest Speaker reflection #2 due on Canvas Nov. 7, 4pm
1211/12-14Capitalism, Neoliberalism and the CJSJohnson; SnyderNov. 12,

Ellen Moore, Amnesty International

Wed. 14 in class, turn in an outline of your paper.
1311/19-21***************Fall break***********Fall break
1411/26-28Reentry and Restorative JusticeTim Ferriss show #323*

McCarthy and Hernandez

Guest Speaker reflection #3 due on Canvas Nov. 26, 4pm
1512/3-5Thinking Beyond PrisonBeyond Prison #3

Future Perfect#4*


Cathy Hazouri, ACLU Colorado

1612/10-12Guest Speaker reflection #4 due on Canvas Dec. 12, 4pm
%d bloggers like this: