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Course Information

Instructor Info:Christopher Tinson
Term: 2013S
Meeting Info: Monday
01:00 PM - 03:50 PM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 104

Professor and activist Angela Davis recently asked "Are prisons obsolete?" And Grier and Cobb once noted "No imagination is required to see this scene as a direct remnant of slavery." Since the 1980s state and federal authorities have increasingly relied on the costly and unsuccessful use of jails and prisons as deterrents of crime. This upper division course will grapple with ideas of incarceration and policing methods that contribute to the consolidation of state power and how it functions as a form of domestic warfare. This course takes a close look at how race (especially), but also class, gender, age and background intersect in shaping attitudes and perceptions towards incarceration and often determine who is incarcerated and who is not. While a number of individuals and organizations continue to push for prison abolition, dependence on advance methods of incarceration persists. As such, we will analyze the historic and contemporary tensions between incarceration and ideals of democracy, citizenship, family, community and freedom. Topics will include: criminalization, racial profiling, surveillance, and police brutality. This course will also acquaint students with many of the active local and national reform and abolition initiatives. It is expected that students have taken an introductory African American Studies or a U.S. history course prior to enrolling in this course. This course may include a community engagement component, site visit, or field trips.

Course Objectives:

Students who take and successfully complete this course will achieve an expansive knowledge of the impact of imprisonment on American society.  This course is intended to deepen students' understanding of the vastness of the systems of state control from policing to sentencing policy to life after release. Students will also become aware of an array of local and national social justice organizations and initiatives concerned with prison reform and abolition.

Distribution: Power, Community, and Social Justice

Cumulative Skills: Independent Work, Multiple Cultural Perspectives, Writing and Research


Evaluation Criteria:

Required Books—to be purchased at Food For Thought Books in Amherst

*Articles will also be uploaded to Moodle

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

Khalil G. Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness

Beth E. Richie, Arrested Justice

Jamie Bissonette, et al., When the Prisoners Ran Walpole



Documentaries and Films

## = Will be viewed in class; unmarked films are encouraged but optional and should be viewed on your own time.

Up The Ridge (doc)

The Farm: Life inside Angola Prison (doc)

##3000 Years and Life (doc)

This Black Soil (doc)

The House I Live In (doc) – possible campus-wide event

##Broken on All Sides (doc)

Teach Our Children (doc)

Eyes on the Prize (doc)

On the Outs (film)


On-line resources

Real Cost of Prisons



Jericho Movement

Critical Resistance

Justice Now

A Thousand Kites

Black and Pink

Women on the Rise Telling Herstory (WORTH)

Innocence Project

Campaign to End the Death Penalty




course Particulars – Vital information Follows.

please Read carefully.


Course Evaluation Policy—In accordance with the student assessment practices of Hampshire College, each student will be evaluated based upon their course attendance and participation, and the fulfillment of all assignments in a satisfactory and timely manner.  (Non-Hampshire students see “Five College Students” next.)

Five College Students—Those who are not Hampshire students will receive a letter grade a conventional A-Fail grading scale instead of a written evaluation.  Each assignment will be graded accordingly, including the final project.

Course portfolios—All students are required to submit all of their written work at the end of the semester. If you do not hand your portfolio in by the deadline, you will be in danger of receiving a No EVAL.  No exceptions.  Work turned in late cannot be guaranteed an evaluation. 


Student Participation: Students are required to read all assigned course readings, however students will also select (or be assigned) readings for which they will lead course discussions throughout the semester.  How? Lead discussants will provide the overall argument in the article or chapter; they will offer one or two (or more!) critical questions about the material for the class to discuss; and give their own view of what readers should take away or conclude from the article or chapter. Students should have their 1 single-spaced page of notes to turn-in at the conclusion of their discussion.


Students are required to write two (very) short reflective essays (one at the beginning of the course, and another at the end), two critical papers, and one research paper throughout the semester. One of the reflective essays can be replaced by writing a letter to an incarcerated individual. (See Professor Tinson for more details if interested). These essays are a chance for you to explore an idea and to demonstrate your understanding of the particular themes and concepts we have read, observed and discussed in the course.

critical essays should be no shorter than 5 full double-spaced pages in length and not longer than 7 pages.  In these essays you are expected to draw upon one or more of the aspects of the reading, film/video, musical, or literary contents that pertain to historical, social and or political developments concerning the controversy and debate surrounding prisons, specifically engaging the assigned course readings. 

Research Papers must be 12-15 pages in length on a subject of your choosing closely related to our course.  Additionally, it is essential that students use proper citation methods (Chicago or MLA) in the critical and research essays. If you don’t know what this means, now is a good time to find out. Though each assignment has its own due date, it is expected that all evaluated coursework will be collected and included in a portfolio to be turned in at the conclusion of the course.

  • Examples of Final essay topic or approved “project”
    • RESEARCH ESSAYS: Study the work of a justice organization or individual(s) of your choosing and compose an essay detailing their history and work and contribution to carceral studies.
  • PROJECT: Could be organizing a campus wide program containing a serious interactive activity; it might also be a creative project of your choosing such as a visual art piece, a collection of poems, a high school lesson plan, a community arts project, a zine, a website, etc. All projects must also include a descriptive write-up detailing the ideas and strategies contained therein.  
Additional Info:

N.B. For purposes of efficacy, any part of this syllabus may be changed at the discretion of the professor. For example, readings or viewings may be added, removed, or altered depending on the direction and pace of the course. Please bring your syllabus with you to each class in case changes are made.  


* Prof. Tinson’s philosophy of critical education: This course seeks to achieve a courageous vocabulary of race and social justice, as such active and informed dialogue is encouraged and appreciated (attacks are not). We encourage getting real about race, and offering comments that stem from critical engagement with the course readings. We should expect some discomfort at times, and anticipate that some issues will be left unresolved and require longer consideration. And lastly, critical thinking and reflection is valued over self-righteousness.

Attendance, Tardiness, and names—Attendance is critically important and therefore mandatory.  Three unexcused absences will result in no evaluation.  Don’t disappear from the course even (or especially) when you are struggling with an issue. Persistent tardiness is unacceptable under any circumstances.  Your attendance and tardiness will be included as a part of the overall course participation portion of each student’s course evaluation. I take course attendance through a simple sign-in sheet. 

Please indicate on the sign-in sheet how you would like to be addressed. Include any names and pronouns you would like for your cohort and I to use when addressing you. As I teach a large number of new students each semester, I ask that you be patient with me.  It may take me a couple of course meetings to become familiar with you, especially if we’ve never met before this course.  But, rest assured, I will make every effort to address you as you wish.  In class discussions I will answer to “Professor Tinson” or “Professor T”. I do not answer by my first name, nor do I answer to “Mr.”; doing so will only yield blank, slightly hostile stares from me. 

Email ETIQUETTE —Please type the course number CSI 260 in the subject line of all correspondence directed to me (I will do the same).  Also, please properly address and sign your emails. I do not answer emails that begin “Hey”, “Hey prof.,” “So”, “Yo”, etc., or those that begin without any address at all.  “Hi Prof. T.,” or “Dear Professor Tinson” are great email starters.

If you need an answer to a burning question or need to inform me of a pressing issue (e.g. a medical absence), do not wait until the last minute to notify me.  I need at least 24 hours lead time to answer you.  Plan accordingly.  However, I do not accept emailed assignments.

NO LAPTOPS. Unless otherwise noted, you are not allowed to use your laptop during course meetings.

All Out-of-class assignments must be typed.  Handwritten out-of-class assignments will not be accepted. 

LATE ASSIGNMENTS AND REWRITE POLICY: Yes, students are allowed to rewrite their written/evaluated assignments.  All rewrites must be received no later than one week (or two class meetings) after the assignment was evaluated by the instructor and returned to the student. However, assignments turned in late cannot be revised for reconsideration. Late assignments will be evaluated and returned in the student’s final portfolio.

SEVERE WEATHER & CLASS CANCELLATION (just in case): On severe weather days please call the College’s weather information line to check the status of school closing.  If the school is open plan to attend class.  If school is closed due to weather, I usually issue (via email) a small assignment to make up for lost class time; so don’t be surprised. J If for some reason the professor is unable to come to class the CSI administrative assistants will place a written notice of class cancellation on the classroom door.