Criminal Justice-coas | Visions of Prison
P493 | 9115 | Brown


Most Americans are familiar with punishment through the celebrated
representations of famous prisons and prisoners.  Some of our images
are literary.  Perhaps we envision the filthy and impoverished prisons
of Victorian England that Charles Dickens wrote so often about in
works like Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.  Or maybe we see the
prison through the imagination of more contemporary writers, like
Stephen King, whose fictional work on prisons has been translated into
highly acclaimed films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green
Mile.  Or possibly, we see Reverend Martin Luther King writing his
famous letter on civil rights from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama.  Our
images of prisoners are equally colorful.  We see prisoners as
predators like Anthony Hopkins' character, Hannibal "The Cannibal"
Lechter, in The Silence of the Lambs or envision other, real-life
notorious murderers, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and Timothy
McVeigh.  Or perhaps we see the prisoner as a victim of justice,
similar to Paul Newman's performance in Cool Hand Luke or Denzel
Washington's portrayal of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter.  We also find
notions of imprisonment embedded in more existential visions of the
human condition, such as the cyber-confinement of The Matrix or the
psychological entrapment of The Cell.  The images are wide and
diverse.  In short, in American popular culture, visions of punishment
are everywhere.  This cultural imagination, so vivid and deep, has
powerful effects in the real world, helping not only to shape
attitudes toward punishment but also influencing the very nature of
its practice as well.

In this course, we will explore the nature of these images, taking as
our primary focus visual treatments of incarceration.  Through a broad
survey of various types of media (Hollywood film, independent cinema,
social documentary, prime time television, HBO, internet, MTV, etc.),
we will engage weekly in analytical exercises designed to make us
better readers of the ways in which punishment is envisioned in
American culture.  As a class, we will seek to develop a
well-informed, critical foundation from which to think about
incarceration in the U.S. today, questioning where our ideas about
prisons come from, asking what expressions of prisons retain the most
power and why.

Readings: Course Packet

Class Meeting:  M, 4:00 - 6:30P, SY 002

Instructor:  Michelle Brown, Criminal Justice Department