This course encourages students to think critically about the criminal justice system and the current system of punishment, while allowing them to experience first-hand some of the cutting edge approaches to problem solving being implemented in New York Courts and non-profits. It enables students to develop competency and confidence in both traditional and non-traditional practice skills and self-management skills that are often required in criminal practice, including self-care, self-awareness, and self-reflection. Students work on improving oral and written communication and reflect on the effects on community members of the procedures employed in many courts and the role played by the physical space itself, including the lack of guidance for many defendants once their court procedures are over, positive ways to communicate with defendants and victims of crime, and problem-solving skills.
This course functions as a seminar—with simulations and readings—in addition to a number of site visits and guests speakers. Students study problems with the current criminal justice system, including the traditional exclusion of victims from the process of “justice,” problems with recidivism, distrust of the system within low income communities and communities of color, poor relations between communities and police, prison overcrowding and the creation of an underclass, the dehumanizing effects of the criminal justice process, the cash bail system, and more. The course simulates a restorative approach to various stages of criminal procedures in class, with students learning how to use restorative justice circles for community building, and problem solving. Students visit a number of community courts to see the how these programs work and differ from other courts. This course invites judges and lawyers into the classroom to share experiences and thoughts. When students observe or participate in the Community Courts, they engage in written self-reflection through journaling or blogging, and work on one more formal paper reflecting on whether these programs improve upon existing practices, how they might be used more widely, what the limitations are, what the role for lawyers or judges should be, or suggestions for improvement.
Recommended for the Following Pathways: Civil Rights/Civil Liberties; Criminal Defense; Criminal Prosecution