Courses Related to Prisons, Carcerality, and Mass Incarceration.

Changing the way we talk about justice, one class at a time.

Courses at Columbia

African American and African Diaspora Studies

This course provides an introduction to historical and contemporary concepts and issues in the U.S. criminal justice system, including state violence; the evolution of modern policing; inequality and criminal justice policy; drug policy as urban policy; and the development of mass incarceration and the “carceral continuum.” The writing component to this course is a 20-25 page research paper on a topic to be developed in consultation with the instructor.

Instructor: Samuel Roberts

Last taught: Spring 2016 at Columbia


This course examines the relationship between race and the criminal justice system in the United States. We will explore the origins and consequences of racial inequality, vis a vis the law, as they inform the various institutions that comprise the criminal justice system (i.e. police departments, courts, prisons, etc), as well as the set of contemporary debates about mass incarceration and movements to reform and reimagine criminal justice in the twenty-first century.

Instructor: Ayanna Sorett

Last taught: Spring 2022 at Columbia

This course will explore the major writings of Angela Davis. We will also be reading other black women intellectuals and activists in relation to Davis’s work. The focus will not only be on Davis’s thought but the way in which her work fits into a broader lineage of black women intellectuals. Major themes to be explored will include the intersectionality of race, gender, and class in the formation of social relations; the prison abolition movement; and, the role of women of color in social justice movements.

Instructor: Kevin Fellezs

Last taught: Fall 2018 at Columbia

Comparative Literature and Society

This course will explore the social justice road to punitive abolition—to the abolition of capital punishment and the dominant punitive punishment paradigm in the United States. It will investigate how abolition of the death penalty might be achieved in this country, but also what it might mean to imagine abolition in the context of policing, of the prison, and also of punishment more broadly.

Instructor: Bernard Harcourt and Alexis Hoag

Last taught: Fall 2020 at Columbia


This course is built on the premise that a socially just practice of medicine is a bioethical imperative. Such a practice cannot be achieved, however, without examining medicine’s histories of racism, as well as learning from and building upon histories of anti-racist health practice.

Instructor: Sayantani T. Dasgupta

Last taught: Spring 2022 at Columbia

This course explores the concepts of isolation and incarceration along the axis of discourses of health—the health of the citizen and the health of society, as it unfolds in two phases: first an introduction to ethnographic methodology in order to produce ethnographic material on the experience of double segregation: incarceration through the criminal justice system and then isolation through the public health system.

Instructor: Neni K. Panourgia 

Last taught: Fall 2020 at Columbia

Creative Writing

Over the course of this semester, we will conduct a close reading of literary works that are based on the lives of individuals who have been ostracized, incarcerated, and isolated from their communities.

Instructor: Christopher Wolfe

Last taught: Spring 2022 at Columbia

English and Comparative Literature

Using the tools of critical race theory, feminism, and class analysis, this course will explore the forms of cultural expression that have emerged in relationship to the American prison experience.

Instructor: Jean Howard

Last taught: Fall 2022 at Columbia

Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies

This course studies the genealogy of the prison in Arab culture as manifested in memoirs, narratives, and poems.

Instructor: Muhsin Al-Musawi

Last taught: Fall 2022at Columbia


Through case studies of the Spanish-Cuban war, the South African War, the Philippines-American War, the genocide of the Herrero and Nama in Southwest Africa, the Armenian Genocide, and the Holocaust, the course traces the evolution of the concentration camp from a counter-insurgency strategy in wartime to a weapon of mass murder

Instructor: Khatchig Mouradian

Last taught: Spring 2021 at Columbia


This course will do three things: (1) critically examine the works of philosophers who have argued for justice reform and social change, (2) set this philosophical work next to writings by prominent activists, especially those interested in criminal justice reform, and(3) work with students to do semester-long activist work.

Instructor: Christia Mercer

Last taught: Spring 2022 at Columbia


Explores ethical, cultural, and political dimensions of Jewish criminal punishment from the Bible through modernity, with focus on death penalty and running reference to Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.

Instructor: N/A

Last taught: Summer 2021 at Columbia


This course is designed to trace the origins of the modern criminal legislation and practices to the Middle Ages, some of which were jury trial, public persecution, and prisons. How did these practices come about, and under which social conditions? The focus of the course will be on violent crimes, such as murder, robbery, assault and suicide, and some particularly medieval crimes like sorcery, blasphemy and sodomy.

Instructor: Neslihan Senocak

Last taught: Spring 2018 at Columbia


This course will examine the deep history of urban segregation, fights for healthy and safe housing, and scholarly and policy debates about the “planet of slums.” The course’s geographic scope is global, using both comparative and transnational approaches, and we will explore the connections between local and global movements and historical processes. Through a historically-oriented but interdisciplinary set of readings, students in this class will become familiar with the terms of debates about the right to shelter as a social, political and legal problem in the modern (nineteenth- and twentieth-century) world.

Instructor: Amy E. Chazkel

Last taught: Fall 2020 at Columbia

This seminar is a deep study of the feminist history, theory, and practice of criminal punishment abolition from the 19th century through the present. It explores key conceptual frameworks, political conundrums, and genealogies of abolition, especially in relation to Black, Native, women of color, queer, and Marxist feminisms. We will explore linkages and divergences from movements to abolish slavery.

Instructor: Sarah Haley

Last taught: Spring 2022 at Columbia

Political Science

This course will introduce students to research on the institutions of the US carceral system, including the police, courts, prisons, and immigration control. We will focus on two questions: how race relates to experiences with the institutions of the carceral state, and how those institutions in turn influence racial politics.

Instructor: Andrew J. McCall

Last taught: Fall 2022 at Columbia


This course for undergraduate students provides a sociological perspective on mass incarceration and examines alternative politics and policies for reform. Through seminar discussions and presentations, students will engage with key lines of scholarship examining the emergence and consequences of historically large prison populations in the United States and review current policy debates.

Instructor: Bruce Western and Vivian D. Nixon

Last taught: Fall 2022 at Columbia

Human Rights Studies – Columbia GSAS

This seminar will cover various issues, debates, and concepts in the international law of armed conflict (known as international humanitarian law), particularly as it relates to the protection of noncombatants (civilians and prisoners of war). In doing so, we will examine how international humanitarian law and human rights law intersect.

Instructor: Bruce Cronin

Last taught: Spring 2019 at Columbia

Courses at Barnard

American Studies

BC 1510
Through film, literary criticism, history, ethnography and philosophy, this course will examine how race manifests as an economic relationship. We will focus on the legacies of chattel slavery, the interconnections of race and property, and ongoing struggles for racial justice.

Instructor: Manu M Vimalassery

Last taught: Fall 2017


This course focuses on the structures and processes that led the U.S. to build the largest carceral regime on the planet in the post-1970s United States. Through readings, lectures, and original research, students will develop analyses of how this growth coincided with a shift in the racial composition of prisons from majority white to almost seventy percent people of color.

Instructor: Jordan Camp

Last taught: Fall 2018


This course encompasses themes of race, ethnicity, mass incarceration, and immigration in the modern United States, with special attention to the stories of Latinx people. We will consider the roles of journalistic writing, documentaries, and personal narratives in shaping public policy and attitudes towards lives behind bars.

Instructor: Maria Hinojosa

Last taught: Fall 2022


BC2075 and BC3063
Introduce students to problems of economic justice under capitalism. Course has three goals: (1) expose students to debates between economics and philosophers about the meaning and nature of justice, (2) explore conflict between efficiency and justice, (3) examine implications of justice for gender equality, intergenerational equity and climate change.

Instructor: Belinda Archibong

Last taught: Fall 2020


This seminar explores the roots of and responses to the contemporary refugee crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. We examine the historical factors that are propelling people, including families and unaccompanied minors, to flee the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala); the law and politics of asylum that those seeking refuge must negotiate in the U.S.; and the burgeoning system of immigration incarceration that detains ever-greater numbers of non-citizens.

Instructor: Nara Milanich

Last taught: Spring 2021

Courses at Union Theological Seminary

This course explores the influence of race and class on the U.S. criminal justice system. As a multidisciplinary course, we will critically explore the ethical and theological issues raised by mass incarceration with analysis grounded in the current social and political context. We will seek to better understand why the world’s largest penal apparatus punishes and controls primarily poor people and people of color.

Instructors: Michelle Alexander and Andrea White 

Last taught: Fall 2017


This course occurs on the anniversary of the Attica Rebellion of 1971 and subsequent massacre. Currently, there are calls for reform measures to change sentencing and parole policies, and eliminate bail. The struggles against the prison system lie at the heart of the call of Black Lives Matter. The instructor, who spent 38 years in prison, draws from her personal experience, along with utilizing readings, videos and discussion. This course aims to challenge the invisibility of women in prison, to examine the dehumanization and daily traumas of imprisonment, and the creative ways that women build community, and programs that address day to day needs and transformative aspirations.

Instructor: Judith Clark

Last taught: Spring 2020

As a minority religion, Buddhism’s contribution to the caregiving fields have yet to be fully developed or realized. This course provides an opportunity to discuss three areas of caregiving (hospital/hospice, campus/collegiate, and incarceration/prison) from the Buddhist perspective.

Instructor: Malik J. M.Walker

Last taught: Fall 2020

Courses at Mailman School of Public Health

The course is designed to provide MPH students with not only a thorough background on the development and structure of what I refer to as the “Carceral System” which includes not only those who are incarcerated in prison or jail but an entire realm of correctional control that includes incarceration at federal, state and local levels; juvenile incarceration; civil commitment (post-sentence institutional detention); Indian Country jails; parole; and probation.

Last taught: Spring 2019


The current systems for the delivery of health services in the United States often fall short of addressing the health needs of many people living in the communities they cover and in so doing contribute to health status disparities. The objective of this course is to help students develop a framework to understand the needs of traditionally under-served populations and the challenges facing the delivery systems that handle these groups.

Last taught: Spring 2020

This course sits at the intersection of public health, policy, and law. The course will explore the full spectrum of causes and costs of mass incarceration as a public health crisis. This course will examine how exposures to different structures of the American criminal punishment apparatus (e.g., law enforcement, jail, prison, or detention centers, community supervision) shape the health of people, families, and society. Observing mass incarceration as an epidemic, this course will adopt a useful public-health model of prevention to contemplate a concerted approach consisting of primary, secondary, and tertiary strategies for unwinding mass human.

Instructor: Hernandez Stroud

Last taught: Fall 2022

Courses at School of International and Public Affairs

Crime narratives have dominated news coverage from the beginning of mass communication. This course examines the prominence and impact of these crime narratives on citizens and public policy. We will explore how reports of crime have been harnessed to advance political, governmental, and ideological objectives for centuries. We will study the power of mass communication and the impact that crime events can have on public policy and crime legislation.

Instructor: Cory Way

Last taught: Fall 2020

Courses at Teachers College

This course provides an examination of the learning of reading and writing by adults who have not achieved full literacy. Populations discussed include students in programs including adult basic education, vocational/ career & technical education, continuing education, and developmental/ remedial education; adults with dyslexia and other learning disabilities; immigrants and others who have limited English language proficiency; students in correctional settings; and participants in adult literacy programs outside of the U.S

Instructor: Dolores Perin

Last taught: Spring 2019