Criminal Justice-COAS | Introduction to Criminal Justice
P100 | 1480 | Nickels


Traditionally, the field of criminal justice studies has been
organized around the task of using scientific methodology to analyze
and guide administrative policymaking to better serve the stated
goals of our justice institutions – primarily, in terms of
developing workable strategies for crime control (and therefore can
be seen as an extension of one of its primary parent disciplines,
criminology). Prior to that, the criminal justice classroom largely
served as pre-professional for those aiming to work in the field
(and usually catered to future police officers), teaching the
technical aspects of practitioners’ work.

More recent trends within the field have pointed away from these
original technological and professional-training orientations and
(drawing upon sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines) have
moved towards building a body of social theory about the
institutions of criminal justice themselves, adopting the view of
disinterested observer in an attempt to explain the behavior of the
system and its various components.

This is the nature of the field today; a mixture of internalist vs.
externalist, applied vs. pure, practitioner vs. academic,
instrumentalist vs. sociological perspectives and concerns.

Generally, this course favors approaching the study of criminal
justice from the latter perspective. It is not primarily concerned
with questions of how best to control crime (a question for
criminology), or the techniques and legal aspects of practitioners’
work as they work to achieve that end (issues best left to police
academies and law schools). Instead, it aims to examine the socio-
historical origins of these institutions of criminal justice and
their nature and function in modern society.

A sociological understanding of the formal control system cannot,
however, be wholly insensitive to the technical aspects of justice
and crime control – the lived realities of those whom we study. Nor
is it unconcerned with evaluative questions of policymaking and
their effects. These matters, however, are subordinate to our
primary aims in this course.

The principal areas we will cover over the course of the semester
include crime (its definitions, measurements, trends, and a
historical survey of the schools of thought attempting to account
for its causes), criminal law (its historical development and modern
structure), and the three primary agencies that put the law into
practice – the police, the courts, and penal institutions – their
processes and interrelations.

Text: Larry J. Siegel, Joseph J. Senna (2004). Essentials of
Criminal Justice, 4th Edition. Wadsworth.

Readings in this course will consist of one textbook (which can be
purchased from the university book store or elsewhere) and
supplementary articles that I will make available through e-reserves
or through Oncourse. The textbook (which attempts to bridge the
pure/applied schism, to some degree) is useful in providing a
straightforward map of the legal bases and formal structure of the
system and a brief overview of general trends in crime and justice
policy in the present and recent past. It also provides exposure to
key concepts and terminology shared by the practitioner and academic
alike, and explicates the operating rationales and methodology of
practices that are of interest to both. Supplementary readings,
then, move us to the “larger” questions we are concerned with – that
is, the nature and function of the system and its various
institutions in society as it exists now and in the forms it has
taken historically and elsewhere in the world. Although this is not
a class in social theory, it is through these readings and class
lectures that we will become acquainted with some of the dominant
themes in scholarly thought attempting to tackle these exact
questions. As a general rule, plan to spend an hour or so reading in
preparation for our lectures (a chapter from the text + one
article), and come prepared to discuss the assigned materials.

Grading: Evaluation in this class will be based upon a midterm and
final exam, and a handful of quizzes that will be administered over
the course of the semester.

Class Meeting: 1:25-2:15, Monday and Wednesday, WH 100.

Instructor: Ernest Nickels, Criminal Justice Department