Certificate(s): Public Interest and Social Justice Law
This class will serve as a kind of think tank. Students in the class will have the opportunity to affect policy and to have their work read and circulated by policymakers.
This year my criminal law and policy seminar focuses on the relationship between social justice and public safety–with the fundamental proposition that the criminal legal system is a late (and less-effective) response to what are, in essence, social problems. I am interested in exploring both preventative measures that could prevent first-entry into the criminal system (as opposed to programs which focus on re-entry–so things like housing, poverty reduction, violence reduction) and on least-restrictive means of redressing behavior that results in offending. Some topics that we will focus on include justice reinvestment, local NGOs as a means of crime prevention, social impact bonds, theories of criminality (e.g. risk-needs-responsiveness, the good lives model), the relationship of physical and mental health and offending, early childhood education as a preventative measure (the Perry Preschool Project), even the importance of green spaces in neighborhoods as a crime-reduction policy. In short, there are problems that we can agree need to be addressed. What I want us to explore is why we, as a society, have decided those problems can (or should) be addressed via the criminal legal system.
As with my past courses on marijuana legalization and ending money bail, both of which resulted in statewide policy changes, the goal for this class is for students to produce work that informs policymakers and interest groups such as the ACLU of Northern California, state assemblymembers, and state senators. This will not be a passive class where you just absorb what I know. I will be teaching you how to approach a legal and policy problem as complex as this (based on my past experiences and my policy networks), and you, through your research and writing posted on the class blog, will be teaching me and others what we should do about it. Ultimately, I see this work as an outgrowth of last year’s class on foster care: that the best way to fight crime is to invest in social services, since people who are not provided adequate educational, social, and material support are much more likely to engage in criminal behavior (or, at least, the criminal behavior that is targeted by law enforcement).
If you are interested in the class, please come see me for permission to take it. I do this to ensure that it will be a good fit, and that, primarily, means that you are interested in improving your research, writing, and policy-making skills and that you will put in the time and effort to make that happen. If you devote the energy to it, you will get a public, google-able set of writing samples and, based on past student evaluations, a profoundly meaningful part of your professional development.