Unit 1: Explanations of Crime
Issue: Is Crime Beneficial to Society?
Yes: Emile Durkheim, from “The Normal and the Pathological,” The Free Press (1938)
No: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, from “Defining Deviancy Down,” The American Scholar (1993)
Classic sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) theorizes that crime reaffirms moral boundaries and
helps bring about needed social changes. Former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-New York) argues that modern crime has gone way beyond the point of being functional and useful for society.
Issue: Is Criminal Behavior Determined Biologically?
Yes: Adrian Raine, from “The Biological Basis of Crime,” Institute for Contemporary Studies (2002)
No: Sean Maddan, from “Criminological Explanations of Crime,” Original Work (2016)
Professor Adrian Raine argues that one of the reasons why we have been so unsuccessful in preventing adult crime is because crime control policies have systematically ignored the biological side of human behavior. Professor Sean Maddan asserts that social forces create the conditions that become sources of crime in American society. Moreover, based on over one hundred years of research, it is likely that social indicators of crime are more important than biological factors.
Issue: Do Immigrants Commit a Disproportionate Share of Crime in the United States?
Yes: Peter Kirsanow, from “Illegal Immigrants and Crime,” National Review (2018)
No: Alex Nowrasteh, from “Restrictionists Are Misleading You about Immigrant Crime Rates,” Reason (2018)
Peter Kirsanow argues that while proponents of unrestrictive immigration laws claim that immigrants are “real Americans,” better, harder-working, and more law abiding that native-born citizens, undocumented aliens do appear to be more crime-prone than the general population. Alex Nowrasteh believes, in contrast, that restrictionists want the public to believe that undocumented immigrants are criminals in order to justify harsh enforcement policies and crackdowns; however, research in this area suggests that their crime rates are no higher than that of the general population.
Unit 2: Current Public Policy Issues in Criminology and Criminal Justice
Issue: Should the United States Ban the Sale and Possession of Military-style Assault Weapons?
Yes: Christopher Ingraham, from “It’s Time to Bring Back the Assault Weapons Ban, Gun Violence Experts Say,” The Washington Post (2018)
No: “Attn. Gun Control Advocates: We Banned Assault Weapons Before…And It Didn’t Work,” Investor’s Business Daily (2018)
Christopher Ingraham argues that assault weapons are a common thread connecting many of the deadliest mass shootings that have occurred in the United States in the last few years. Thus, he believes, it is time to bring back the assault weapons ban. Investor’s Business Daily editors, in contrast, contend that previous assault weapons bans in the U.S. have been ineffective and did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence outcomes.
Issue: Are “Stand Your Ground” Laws an Effective Way to Stop Violent Crime?
Yes: Jorge Amselle, from “Why We Need ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws,” The Daily Caller (2014)
No: James A. Beckman, from “The Problem with Stand Your Ground Laws: A Proven Detriment to Public Safety,” Original Work (2016)
Writer and firearms instructor Jorge Amselle asserts that “stand your ground laws” are needed for self-defense in the United States. Such laws provide those who use weapons for self-defense and defense of personal property with an effective legal defense in such cases. Professor and author James Beckman, in contrast, argues that “stand your ground laws” are an anachronism in modern society. Moreover, Beckman believes that these laws encourage situations wherein individuals will choose to escalate potentially violent encounters rather than diffusing them.
Issue: Does the U.S. Criminal Justice System Discriminate Against African Americans?
Yes: Kim Farbota, from “Black Crime Rates: What Happens When the Numbers Aren’t Neutral?” Huffpost (2016)
No: Patrick Worrall, “Do Black Americans Commit More Crime?” Factcheck (2014)
Kim Farbota asserts that there are systematic differences in how blacks and whites are treated by the law. These differences are compounded by each successive phase of the criminal justice process, which increases the percentage of black people incarcerated for committing a particular crime. Patrick Worrall argues, in contrast, that there is evidence that black Americans are more likely to commit certain types of crime than people of other races. While it would be naive to suggest that there is no racism in the U.S. justice system, victimization reports do not support the idea this is due to mass discrimination.
Issue: Should Juvenile Courts Be Abolished?
Yes: Barry C. Feld, from “Juvenile Justice in Minnesota: Framework for the Future,” Council on Crime and Justice (2007)
No: Vincent Schiraldi and Jason Ziedenberg, from "The Florida Experiment: An Analysis of the Impact of Granting Prosecutors Discretion to Try Juveniles As Adults," The Justice Policy Institute (1999)
Law professor Barry C. Feld contends that creating a separate juvenile court system has resulted in unanticipated negative consequences for America’s children and for justice. Vincent Schiraldi, director of the Justice Policy Institute, and researcher Jason Ziedenberg maintain that moving thousands of kids into adult courts is unnecessary, harmful, and racist.
Issue: Is Exposure to Pornography Related to Increased Rates of Rape?
Yes: Diana E. H. Russell, from “Pornography as a Cause of Rape,” dianarussell.com (2004)
No: Anthony D’Amato, from “Porn Up, Rape Down,” Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 913013 (2006)
Diana E. H. Russell argues that the evidence is overwhelming that exposure to pornography is a major causal factor of rape. She utilizes the concept of “multiple causation” to explain the relationship between pornography and rape. Anthony D’Amato, in contrast, argues that the incidence of rape has declined 85 percent in the last 25 years while access to pornography via the internet has become more freely available to teenagers and adults.
Issue: Should It Be a Hate Crime to Display the Confederate Flag?
Yes: Ta-Nehisi Coates, from “Take Down the Confederate Flag–Now,” The Atlantic (2015)
No: David French, from “Don’t Tear Down the Confederate Battle Flag,” National Review (2015)
Noted author Ta-Nehisi Coates contends that even though the Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate,” it is a heritage of white supremacy and cowardice and should be banned. David French, in contrast, argues that states should no more remove a Confederate battle flag from a Confederate memorial than they should chisel away the words on the granite or bulldoze the memorials themselves.
Unit 3: Punishment
Issue: Does the Use of Solitary Confinement or “Administrative Segregation” in U.S. Correctional Facilities Constitute Cruel and Unusual Punishment?
Yes: Alison Shames, Jessa Wilcox and Ram Subramanian, from “Solitary Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives,” Vera Institute of Justice (2015)
No: William Daly, from “Segregation: A Necessary Evil,” CorrectionsOne (2013)
Alison Shames, Jessa Wilcox and Ram Subramanian contend that solitary confinement produces many unwanted and harmful outcomes – for the mental and physical health of those placed in isolation, for the public safety of the communities to which most will return, and for the corrections budgets of jurisdictions that rely on the practice for facility safety. William Daly, in contrast, argues that correctional administrators need to be proactive in controlling situations, rather than waiting to respond after their lives are in danger. This may include segregation, which is used to isolate those who have been deemed to be disruptive and dangerous.
Issue: Do “Three Strikes” Sentencing Laws and Other “Get Tough” Approaches to Crime Really Work?
Yes: William B. Mateja, from “Sentencing Reform, the Federal Criminal Justice System, and Judicial and Prosecutorial Discretion,” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy (2004)
No: American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), from “10 Reasons to Oppose ‘3 Strikes, You’re Out,’” American Civil Liberties Union (2015)
Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General William B. Mateja contends that the current 30-year low in violent crime is not an accident. Reducing crime means reducing the number of criminals on the streets, which requires consistent, tough penalties that incapacitate the dangerous and deter those considering the commission of a crime. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues that our nation’s crime control policies for the past 20 years have been based on the belief that harsh sentences deter people from committing crimes. But today, with more than one million people behind bars, and state budgets depleted by the huge costs of prison construction, we are no safer than before. New approaches to the problem of crime are needed, but instead, our political leaders keep serving up the same old punitive strategies.
Issue: Should Private “For-profit” Corporations Be Allowed to Run U.S. Prisons?
Yes: Sasha Volokh, from “Don’t End Federal Private Prisons,” The Washington Post (2016)
No: Bernard Chazelle, “Letter to the Editor: The Case against Private Prisons,” The Daily Princetonian (2017)
Sasha Volokh argues that if the federal government continues contracting with private prison firms, it could take the lead in this area and improve the quality of these facilities. This means that even if all the bad reports about private prisons are true, the best strategy may be “mend it, don’t end it.” Professor Bernard Chazelle, in contrast, asserts that the private prison industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying for stricter criminal laws and that to do so just to “make a buck” is to dive headlong into a legal and moral abyss.
Issue: Is Capital Punishment a Bad Public Policy?
Yes: David Von Drehle, from “Miscarriage of Justice: Why the Death Penalty Doesn’t Work,” The Washington Post (1995)
No: Dave Anderson, from “10 Reasons the Death Penalty Should Be Legal,” Listland (2016)
David Von Drehle, a writer and the arts editor for the Washington Post, examines specific capital punishment cases and data and concludes that capital punishment is a bad social policy. Dave Anderson, in contrast, believes that the U.S. Constitution permits the death penalty and that it is “right and proper” that people are punished for the crimes that they commit and that the punishment should be proportionate to their offense.
Unit 4: Emerging Trends in Criminology and Criminal Justice
Issue: Should the United States End the “War on Drugs?”
Yes: Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall, from “Four Decades and Counting: The Continued Failure of the War on Drugs,” The Cato Institute (2017)
No: James Banks, from “4 Reasons Why Ending the War on Drugs Would be a Huge Mistake,” Mic (2013)
Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall, of the Cato Institute, assert that drug prohibition is not only ineffective, but counterproductive, as a social policy. The domestic War on Drugs has contributed to an increase in drug overdoses and has helped to create powerful drug cartels. On an international level, it has actively undermined the goals of the Global War on Terror. James Banks contends, in contrast, that legalization proponents’ arguments are based largely on unsubstantiated claims and misleading statistics. A world with either no restrictions or fewer restrictions on narcotics would be a long way from utopia.
Issue: Should Marijuana be Legalized?
Yes: Ethan A. Nadelmann, from “An End to Marijuana Prohibition: The Drive to Legalize Picks Up,” National Review (2004)
No: Charles D. Stimson, from “Legalizing Marijuana: Why Citizens Should Just Say No,” The Heritage Foundation (2010)
Ethan A. Nadelman, the founder and director of the Drug Policy Alliance contends that contemporary marijuana laws are unique among American criminal laws because no other law is both enforced so widely and yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the public; enforcing marijuana laws also wastes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars annually. Charles D. Stimson of the Heritage Foundation argues that marijuana legalization will increase crime, drug use, and social dislocation –the exact opposite of what pro-legalization advocates promise. Moreover, he believes that there is substantial evidence to suggest that legalizing marijuana would lead to greater problems of addiction, violence, disorder, and death.
Issue: Should the Police be Required to Wear Body Cameras?
Yes: Jay Stanley, from “Police Body-mounted Cameras: With the Right Policies in Place, a Win for All,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Report (2015)
No: Jennifer L. Doleac, from “Do Body-worn Cameras Improve Police Behavior?” The Brookings Institute (2017)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley contends that if U.S. police departments develop proper policies for the use of police body cams they will be a “win for all.” These devices will enhance police accountability and protect officers against false claims of abuse. Jennifer L. Doleac, in contrast, argues that body cameras are extremely costly, mostly due to the costs of storing and managing the video footage. Because there is no evidence that these devices have a significant impact on police behavior, law enforcement agencies may be better off spending taxpayers’ dollars in other ways.
Issue: Should Apple Be Forced to Assist the Government’s Efforts to Crack Cell Phones Needed for Criminal Investigations?
Yes: William J. Bratton and John J. Miller, from “Seeking iPhone Data, Through the Front Door,” New York Times (2016)
No: Kim Z. Dale, from “Apple Shouldn’t Unlock the San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone for the FBI,” Chicago Now: Listing Beyond Forty (2016)
New York City Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton, and Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism and Intelligence, John J. Miller assert that Apple has a responsibility to assist the government with encryption whenever it has a warrant supported by probable cause for a cell phone search and that the company should comply with constitutionally legal court orders. Blogger Kim Z. Dale believes that Apple should not be forced to help the government to unlock an iPhone in a criminal investigation, even in a case as compelling as the one involving the San Bernardino shooter. She further contends that unlocking that iPhone would be “opening a Pandora’s box,” with serious implications for personal privacy and government accountability.
Unit 5: The U.S. Supreme Court, Crime, and the Justice System
Issue: Should Same-sex Marriage Be Lawful in the United States?
Yes: Anthony Kennedy, from “Majority Opinion, Obergefell v. Hodges,” United States Supreme Court (2015)
No: Antonin Scalia, from “Dissenting Opinion, Obergefell v. Hodges,” United States Supreme Court (2015)
Justice Anthony Kennedy asserts that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment; couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The late Justice Antonin Scalia argues that the Court’s majority in this case effectively establishes that the Supreme Court is the “Ruler” of 320 million Americans. This decision is the furthest extension one can imagine of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention.
Issue: Does Sentencing a Juvenile to a Mandatory Term of Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole Constitute Cruel and Unusual Punishment?
Yes: Elena Kagan, from “Majority Opinion, Miller v. Alabama,” United States Supreme Court (2012)
No: John Roberts, from “Dissenting Opinion, Miller v. Alabama,” United States Supreme Court (2012)
Justice Elena Kagan asserts that imprisoning offenders for life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed when they were juveniles violates the Eight Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. Chief Justice John Roberts argues, in contrast, that the determination of appropriate punishments for crimes should be left to the legislative branch of government.
Issue: Does the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Protect the Right to Possess a Firearm?
Yes: Antonin E. Scalia, from “Majority Opinion, District of Columbia v. Heller, United States Supreme Court (2008)
No: John Paul Stevens, from “Dissenting Opinion, District of Columbia v. Heller, United States Supreme Court (2008)
Justice Antonin E. Scalia, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), held unconstitutional a District of Columbia law making it a crime to carry an unregistered handgun and prohibiting the registration of handguns. It also authorized the police chief to issue one-year licenses and required residents to keep lawfully owned handguns unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device. Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), argued that neither the text of the Second Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Moreover, there is no indication that the framers intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.
Issue: Should an Imprisoned Convict Who Claims Innocence Have a Constitutional Right to Access the State’s Evidence for DNA Testing?
Yes: John Paul Stevens, from “Dissenting Opinion, District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne,” United States Supreme Court (2009)
No: John Roberts, from “Majority Opinion, District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne,” United States Supreme Court (2009)
Justice John Paul Stevens, in a dissenting opinion in District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial Dis¬trict v. Osborne (2009), contends that a fundamental responsibility to ensure that “justice” has been served requires a state to provide a defendant with post-conviction access to DNA evidence. Because it could conclu¬sively establish whether an accused had committed the crime in the first place, this right should be protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority opinion in District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial District v. Osborne (2009), held that the U.S. Constitution’s Due Process Clause provides no right to post conviction access to DNA evidence because it would take the development of rules and procedures in criminal cases out of the hands of state legislatures and courts.