Criminal Law and Policy

Class Information Spring 2020


W. David Ball

Associate Professor

Criminal Law and Policy

Certificate(s): Public Interest and Social Justice Law

Course Description:

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.

Class Notes:

To enroll in this course, contact the professor.  This year my criminal law and policy seminar focuses on the legal and policy implications of the foster care system in California. 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 don’t actually know much about the foster care system other than two things: first, that we sometimes unnecessarily terminate parental rights, we sometimes unnecessarily don’t, and it’s hard to tell the difference, and second, that children who are placed in foster care often end up in the criminal legal system. I am taking on this subject because I think it’s important–and tragic–that we, as a society, can know the statistics about the life outcomes of foster children and not do better than we are doing. So we will be working hard to figure this out together. 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 work on foster care as a test case for a new approach to criminal justice policy: 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). 

We will begin with the statutory and regulatory regime governing foster care, focusing not just on the substantive law but also on the procedures used in its application and enforcement. We will also engage in some basic fact finding/orientation, researching and discussing the size and features of the foster care population, the families from which foster children are taken (and the families from which they aren’t, if there are patterns to be found), the characteristics/demographics/life experiences of foster children, and their life outcomes. Following this, we will shift our focus to particular processes, substantive laws, populations, and interventions designed to improve the system. 

Students enrolled in this course will be expected to work hard and meet professional standards. In return, you will get a public, google-able set of writing samples and, based on past student evaluations (which are linked on my faculty page), a profoundly meaningful part of your professional development.