(LAWD-8090) - 2 UNITS

Over the past century, criminal law in the United States has expanded exponentially, covering greater forms of conduct and substantially increasing punishment. This has resulted in a country where 2 million people wake up in a prison or jail every morning, while another 4 million people continue living their lives under some form of correctional supervision. These empirical realities exact a heavy human toll across society, but particularly so on the most vulnerable populations in the United States. All too often, the costs of mass incarceration have been concentrated on the poor, the underserved, and communities of color.

These problems were all made possible by legislative decisions about criminal codes, which establish the boundaries of criminal liability and punishment in the United States. Although these decisions are some of the most important that any government makes, we know surprisingly little about how they're actually made. You can help change that. In the Criminal Justice Reform Seminar & Lab, students will have the opportunity to participate in a first-of-its-kind project studying how legislators justify and debate changes to their criminal codes. By carefully analyzing criminal policy hearings in state and federal legislatures across the country, students will acquire a unique, real-world understanding of how criminal justice reform happens - and how to effectively advocate for criminal justice reforms in a legislative setting.

The Criminal Justice Reform Seminar & Lab is made up of two different remote courses. The first is a two-credit, graded seminar taking place in Fall 2023, in which students will learn about criminal justice reform from a legislative perspective. During this remote course, students will study important texts and readings that help to understand how our elected representatives handle, and mishandle, criminal justice issues.

The second remote course is a two-semester lab - one credit in Fall 2023, and one credit in Spring 2024, both ungraded/Pass-Fail - where students will work with colleagues to analyze legislative hearings over state and federal criminal codes. To conduct this analysis, students will learn to apply an innovative justice reform coding scheme first developed by the instructor in 2019, and which has since been successfully applied by second and third-year law students across the country. Coding will principally take place in virtual lab meetings, during which LLS students will have the opportunity to work together in teams, to interact with law and criminology students at other U.S. universities, and to speak with criminal law experts.

By taking the Criminal Justice Reform Seminar & Lab, students will acquire foundational knowledge of the criminal law and legislative policymaking. Students will also improve their oral communication and advocacy skills, by learning how to: formulate criminal policy arguments, work collaboratively with colleagues, and present and defend positions in a constructive and inclusive way. The Criminal Justice Reform Seminar & Lab will also provide students with essential legislative analysis skills, as students practice briefing bills in the same way that first year law students practice briefing cases. By the end of the year, students should be able to summarize, distill, and analyze legislative histories in a manner that is helpful to any legal job that involves the application or interpretation of statutes.

During Fall 2023, the Criminal Justice Reform Seminar & Lab will meet on Thursdays, from 2:50 - 5:50 pm. (Generally speaking, the seminar portion will run from 2:50 - 4:50pm, and the lab portion from 4:50 - 5:50 pm). During Spring 2024, the one - credit remote lab course will run at a time to be determined during Fall 2023.

Please note: Admission to the Criminal Justice Reform Lab & Seminar is limited to six students, and involves a virtual interview with Professor Serota. Expressions of interest and questions about the courses should be directed to Professor Serota at