Crime, Prisons, Education and Justice Minor

About the Minor

Students in the Crime, Prisons, Education, and Justice minor will participate in one of the most pressing civil rights challenges of the 21stcentury: ending mass incarceration and the carceral state.

For decades, scholars and activists have denounced the moral bankruptcy and political expediency that produced and sustained mass incarceration and the carceral state in the United States. The particulars are widely known: measured either in real numbers or per capita rates, the United States imprisons far more people for vastly longer periods than any other country on earth. More than two million people are in prison or jail. More than four million are under some form of custodial supervision. Millions more have lost the right to vote or have been locked out of the civil, communal, and economic life of the community. Today, the broad reach of the carceral state is truly staggering. Nearly half of all Black men and 40% of all white men between the ages of 18-23 have been arrested or convicted of a criminal offense. There are more Black men and women in custody or under the supervision of the criminal justice system in the 21st century than there were slaves in 1850.

This is the world of the carceral state and mass incarceration. But perhaps that world is changing. For the first time in nearly fifty years, the overlapping moral, economic, racial, and political problems of mass incarceration have come to occupy a central place in the American public square. A welcome bipartisan sentiment has emerged that mass incarceration is a problem the United States continues to ignore at its peril. From former Attorney General Eric Holder to former Congressman Newt Gingrich; from Charles Koch to George Soros; from the progressive supporters of the ACLU to the Tea Party activists in “Right On Crime,” there is now broad agreement that change in the American criminal justice system is not only possible, it is imperative.

Hyper-incarceration is a relatively new reality in the United States. For most of the 20th century, imprisonment rates in this country were relatively stable, and on par with the rest of the Western world. In the early 70s, they began to climb, and continued to climb through good economic times and bad, as crime rates rose and fell, in Red States and Blue, during Democratic administrations as well as Republican. Why? Any major social change produces winners and losers. Who benefited from the carceral state and who lost? And how did we get here? What were the arguments that justified and sustained these developments? How did these arguments interact and overlap with other arguments taking place at the same time about social welfare, individual responsibility, and the role of the state? And why might it be changing? Is change really upon us, or are the solutions that dominate the policy realm merely cosmetic? These are the sorts of questions that students in the minor will confront.

But students in the Crime, Prisons, Education, and Justice minor will not merely study these issues. The University has a longstanding relationship with the Cornell Prison Education Program. For many years, Cornell faculty and graduate students have enjoyed the privilege of teaching some of the most eager, appreciative, and thoughtful students they will ever encounter: the men participating in the CPEP programs in New York prisons. As part of the minor, students will serve as Teaching Assistants for Cornell classes in the prisons.

The minor thus teaches what no classroom experience can impart: that knowledge is intrinsically valuable, and that all human beings can be redeemed. It is civic engagement with a profound moral purpose that leads to a rare degree of cultural competence. Adding the classroom component of minor will give the students the opportunity for extended critical reflection on the complex phenomena of mass incarceration and the carceral state, and to integrate their learning in a real-world setting that is all too common for all too many: the American prison.

Minor Requirements

To satisfy the requirements of the minor, a student must earn a minimum of 15 credits and complete 5 qualifying, interdisciplinary courses. Since this minor is interdisciplinary, students may not take all five courses from the same department.

Below are the requirements:

1.  Submit an online enrollment application to the Undergraduate Coordinator, Danielle O’Connor in the Government Department.

2.  Successfully complete GOVT/AMST 3121 Crime and Punishment, GOVT/AMST 3141 Prisons (Distance Learning course), or GOVT 3152/AMST 3155 Prisons, Politics, Policy

3.  Successfully complete GOVT 3142 “Incarceration, Policy Response, and Self-Reflection,”  EDUC 3142 "Reflecting on the Intersections of Education and Prison Systems," or another class that includes an opportunity for extended reflection on the complexity of working with people who are justice-involved, subject to approval by the minor’s Faculty Director).

4.  All students must complete an engagement requirement. Participation in any of the following programs can fulfill this requirement: Teaching Assistant for the Cornell Prison Education Program (must be 21 years old to participate), Cornell University Parole Initiative, other Cornell-based projects subject to approval.  Alternatively, students can design their own engagement project. They can become involved with virtually any aspect of the criminal justice system so long as it provides a rigorous opportunity for meaningful participation with a justice-engaged or justice-involved population. We encourage them to be creative. If students want to go this route to satisfy the engagement requirement, they must submit a description of the program for prior approval.

5.  Earn a minimum grade of C+ on all classes to be used toward the minor.

6.  Obtain final approval from the Minor’s Faculty Director, Joe Margulies.

Students may tailor the minor for their particular academic and career goals. For a list of courses that may be taken to complete the minor, please see below. 

Qualifying Courses

To satisfy the requirements of the minor, a student must earn a minimum of 15 credits and complete 5 qualifying, interdisciplinary courses. Since this minor is interdisciplinary, students may not take all five courses from the same department.  Among the 5 qualifying courses, students are required to:

• Successfully complete GOVT/AMST 3121 Crime and Punishment, GOVT/AMST 3141 Prisons, or GOVT 3152/AMST 3155 Prisons, Politics, Policy

• Successfully complete GOVT 3142 Incarceration, Policy Response, and Self-Reflection (or its equivalent, pending approval by the minor’s Faculty Director).

• Serve as a Teaching Assistant for at least one class taught by the Prison Education Program at either the Auburn, Cayuga, Five Points, or Elmira Correctional Facilities. Students may also serve in a teaching assistant capacity at MacCormick Secure Facility or Finger Lakes Residential Center. In these Teaching Assistant roles, students are expected to prepare and participate in classes held at New York State Correctional Facilities.

• Students are required to earn a minimum grade of C+ on all classes to be used toward the minor.

Students may enroll in any of the following courses to meet the minor elective requirements**:

AMST 3590 Black Radical Tradition in the U.S.

AMST 3762 Law, Latin@s, Illegality

AMST 3615/PAM 3610 Orange is the New Black

ANTHR 4071 Through the Prison Threshold (Please contact instructor for syllabus)

ASRC 2241 Reading The New Jim Crow and Contemporary Modes of Racialization (Please contact instructor for syllabus)

ECON 3255/ PAM 3600 Economics of Crime

ECON 4250 The Economics of Crime and Corruption

ENGL 3895 Reflecting on the Prison Classroom

ENGL 2870 Freedom Writes

ENGL 4100 Writing Behind Bars (Please contact instructor for syllabus)

GOVT 2432 Moral Dilemmas in the Law

GOVT 3001 Constitutional Law and U.S. Politics

GOVT 3002 Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (Please contact instructor for syllabus)

GOVT 3012 The Politics of Poverty in the United States

GOVT 3131 Nature, Function, and Limits of Law

GOVT 3281 Constitutional Politics

GOVT 3696 Race and Slavery, Old and Modern

GOVT 3785 Civil Disobedience

GOVT 4232 The Politics of the Inner City

GOVT 4846 Equality

HD 3330 Children and the Law

HD 4390 Positive Psychology in Prison

HD/LAW/PSYCH 2650 Psychology and Law

HIST 1600 History of Law: Great Trials

HIST 2422 History of the U.S. Prison (Please contact instructor for syllabus)

HIST 2423 Dazed and Confused

HIST 2815 Imprisonment in Europe and America From the Middle Ages to the Present

HIST 4945 The Birth of the Prison in 18th Century Europe and America

ILRLR 4027 Campus Mediation Practicum

ILRLR 6029 Campus Mediation Practicum II: Advanced Issues in Restorative Justice

LAW 4051 The Death Penalty in America

LAW 6251 Law and Politics of the Carceral State

LAW 7672 Race and the Criminal Justice System

PHIL 1960 Law, Society, and Morality

PHIL 3475 Philosophy of Punishment

PAM 2080 Confinement!

PMA 4680 Prison Theatre and the Possibilities of Transformation

PMA 4801 Advanced Studies in Acting Techniques

PMA 4681 Cages and Creativity: the Arts in Incarceration

PSYCH 2820 Community Outreach

PSYCH 3820 Prejudice and Stereotyping

SOC 2220 Controversies about Inequality

SOC 2460 Drugs & Society

SOC 2560 Sociology of Law

SOC 3120 Urban Sociology (Please contact instructor for syllabus)

SOC 3370 Race and Public Policy

SOC 3710 Comparative Social Inequalities

SOC 3850 Mass Incarceration and Family Life

WRIT 1100 Prison Partners

STUDY ABROAD in Scandinavian Program - Criminology and Criminal Justice in Scandinavia

**This list is not definitive, students may earn credit for alternative courses they would like to substitute for their minor electives so long as they obtain prior approval from the Faculty Director. Please note, the sample syllabi posted above are meant to provide a general overview of what each course offers; specific readings, guest lectures, and assignments may vary from semester to semester.


Joe Margulies
Faculty Director
Aaron Childree
Minor Coordinator
Danielle O’Connor
Undergraduate Coordinator

(607) 255-4180
Mary Katzenstein
Jamila Michener
Bruce Levitt
Rob Scott
Executive Director
Cornell Prison Education Program
(607) 255-9104
Jan Morgan Zeseron
Courtesy Lecturer
East Asia Program


Students interested in the Minor in Crime, Prisons, Education, and Justice should complete the Minor Enrollment Form. Please review minor requirements prior to submitting your application.

For inquiries related to the Minor in Crime, Prisons, Education, and Justice, please contact:

Danielle O’Connor, Undergraduate Field Coordinator
Department of Government
Tel: (607) 255-4180