Course syllabus




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CRIM 202: Contemporary Issues in Punishment

SEMESTER 1, 2020

15 points


James Oleson -

Course delivery format:

2 hours of lectures and 1 hour of tutorial

Lectures: Fridays 11:00 - 13:00

Tutorials: TBA

Summary of Course Description:              

This course is designed to introduce undergraduates to key contemporary issues in penology and punishment theory. Using a combination of readings, films, lectures and discussions, students will be familiarised with the core theories of punishment and asked to apply them when thinking about current controversies. We will begin with an overview of punishment and a discussion of some of the fundamental theories of punishment. As the course continues, students will learn about a variety of topics (e.g., the shift from corporal to carceral punishments, the circular history of the prison, the decline of the death penalty and the emergence of the “new penology” of risk management). The course employs an international, comparative approach: while a great deal of penological research originates in the US, students will also be exposed to materials from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England and elsewhere, and expected to relate them to each other.

Course outcomes:

By the end of the course, a student should:

  • Understand the cornerstone theories of punishment (i.e., deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution)
  • Be familiar with the evolution of punishment in western society
  • Understand the relationships between punishment and categories such as race, class, and gender
  • Be familiar with the concept of restorative justice
  • Be familiar with the arguments surrounding capital punishment
  • Be familiar with key debates in punishment and be able to critically analyse both sides of the argument
  • Be able to write a response essay related to punishment, combining academic research and critical analysis

Assessment Summary:

This course is assessed through three measures:  two 60-minute in-class midterm tests (20% each, thus making up 40% of your total grade), a 1,000 word essay (worth 20% of your grade), and a two-hour final examination (worth 40% of your grade). I use a point system, in which 100 points are available for this course.

Midterm test:  The midterm tests will be administered in the fourth and eighth weeks. You will have 60 minutes. Questions may consist of true/false, multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank, or short answer. There will be at least one essay question, but instead of writing an essay, you will be asked to sketch out an outline for an essay or to provide bullet-point information. An actual essay will not be necessary on the tests. For test one, questions will be drawn from all assigned readings, lectures, and tutorials from weeks one through four (inclusive). For test two, questions will be drawn from weeks five through eight, although you will find it helpful to use concepts from the first four weeks, as well.

Final examination:  The compulsory final examination will be two hours long. The first part of the examination will consist of true/false, multiple choice, matching, fill in the blank, and short answer questions, and will focus on material from weeks nine through eleven. The second part of the examination will consist of one essay question, which will require you to draw upon material from the whole of the course.

Response essay:  The 1,000 word essay should respond to one or more of the readings assigned for the course. The essay is not a summary of the article/chapter, nor is it a critique, nor is it a research essay. It is your response to one or more of the readings. You might incorporate independent research, and/or draw upon examples from news, television, or film, but there is a lot of latitude in this assignment. But your essay must be 1,000 words or less, which means that every word really needs to count. Strategies for the essay will be shared in class, and might be workshopped in tutorial sessions. The essay is due on the day of class in the tenth week.

Weekly Topics:

Week 1 (6 March):              

Lecture:               Overview of the course

Utilitarian theories of punishment: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, restitution

Readings:            Beccaria, Cesare. 1775/1991. An essay on crimes and punishments. 4th ed. Birmingham, Alabama: Legal Classics Library [selections].

Week 2 (13 March):              

Lecture:               Utilitarian theories, continued.

Retribution-based theories of punishment

Readings:            Lewis, C.S. 1972. The humanitarian theory of punishment. In Contemporary punishment: Views, explanations, and justifications, eds. Randolph J. Gerber & Patrick D. McAnany, pp. 194-99. London: University of Notre Dame Press.

Shaw, George Bernard. 1932. Crude criminology. In 22 The collected works of Bernard Shaw, pp. 173-240. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Company.

Week 3 (20 March):              

Lecture:               Restorative justice

Readings:            Zehr, Howard. 1990. Changing lenses: A new focus for crime and justice. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press: 177-214.

Acorn, Annalise E. 2004. Compulsory compassion: A critique of restorative justice. Vancouver: UBC Press: 1-26.

Week 4 (27 March):               

Lecture:               Controlling judicial discretion

Reminder:           Midterm test 1

Readings:            Frankel, Marvin E. 1972. Lawlessness in sentencing. University of Cincinnati Law Review, 41: 1.

Taibbi, Matt. 2013. Cruel and unusual punishment: The shame of three strikes laws. Rolling Stone (27 Mar.). Available at:

Feeley, Malcolm M. & Jonathan Simon. 1998. The new penology: Notes on the emerging strategy of corrections and its implications. In The criminology theory reader, eds. Stuart Henry & Werner Einstadter, pp. 451-66.  London: New York University Press.

Oleson, James C. 2016. Habitual criminal legislation in New Zealand: Three years of three-strikes. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 48(2), 477-292.

Week 5 (3 April):             

Lecture:               Remand

Readings:            Oleson, James C., Marie VanNostrand, Christopher T. Lowenkamp, and Timothy P. Cadigan. 2014. Pretrial detention choices and federal sentencing. Federal Probation, 78: 12-16.

Schuppe, Jon. 2017. Post bail. NBC News (22 Aug.). Available at:

Week 6 (10 April):             

No Lecture

MID-SEMESTER BREAK: 10 April through 27 April

Week 7 (1 May):              

Lecture:               More than probation, less than prison

Readings:            Tonry, Michael & Mary Lynch. 1996. Intermediate sanctions. Crime and Justice 20: 99-144.

MacKenzie, Doris L., and David P. Farrington. 2015. Preventing future offending of delinquents and offenders: What have we learned from experiments and meta-analyses? Journal of Experimental Criminology, 11(4): 565-595.

Week 8 (8 May):              

Lecture:               Prisons

Readings:            Gawande, Atul. 2009. Hellhole. The New Yorker (30 Mar.): 36-45.

Oleson, James C. 2002. The punitive coma. California Law Review, 90(3): 829-862.

Schlosser, Eric. 1998. The prison-industrial complex. The Atlantic, 282: 51-77.

Week 9 (15 May):              

Lecture:               Penal Populism

Reminder:           Midterm test 2

Readings:            Pratt, John. 2005. The dark side of paradise: Explaining New Zealand’s history of high imprisonment. British Journal of Criminology46(4): 541-560. 

Socia, Kelly M. 2014. Residence restrictions are ineffective, inefficient, and inadequate: So now what? Criminology & Public Policy, 13(1): 179-188.

Week 10 (22 May):            

Lecture:               Mass incarceration

Readings:            Pew Center on the States. 2009. One in 31: The long reach of American corrections. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Oleson, James C. 2016. The new eugenics: Black hyper-incarceration and human abatement. Social Sciences, 5(4), 66, 1-20.

Week 11 (29 May):           

Lecture:               Recidivism and prisoner reentry

Reminder:           Essay due

Readings:            Martinson, R. 1974. What works? Questions and answers about prison reform. The Public Interest, 35, 22-54.

New Zealand Department of Corrections. 2009. What works now? Wellington: Department of Corrections.

Week 12 (5 June):            

Lecture:               Capital punishment

Readings:            Camus, Albert. 1961. “Reflections on the guillotine.” In Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays, pp. 175-234. New York: Random House.

Grann, David. 2009. Trial by fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man? The New Yorker (7 Sept.): 42-63. Available at:


Workload and deadlines for submission of coursework:           

The University of Auckland's expectation is that students spend 10 hours per week on a 15-point course, including time in class and personal study. Students should manage their academic workload and other commitments accordingly. Deadlines for coursework are set by course convenors and will be advertised in course material. You should submit your work on time. In extreme circumstances, such as illness, you may seek an extension but you may be required to provide supporting information before the assignment is due. Late assignments without a pre-approved extension may be penalised by loss of marks – check course information for details.


Submitting work late

Please try your hardest to meet coursework deadlines. Extensions are possible if, for example, you or a family member falls ill, or some other circumstance beyond your control prevents you from completing your work.

You can apply for an extension by contacting me via email ( or during office hours.  You may need to provide supporting information, like a doctor's or counsellor's certificate, but the important thing is to get in contact.

Late submission of coursework is possible without an extension, so long as you are ready to accept a penalty by losing marks. Late penalties help ensure fairness, otherwise some students would have more time to complete work than others.

The penalties for submitting work late when you do not have an extension are 2% per day, with no coursework being accepted if more than 7 days late.

Everyone confronts difficulties at some point. So please talk to or email me if you are experiencing troubles finishing or submitting coursework. I will work with you wherever possible and, of course, it is better to get an assignment in late than not at all (even if it is incomplete).


Where to go for help

Your well-being comes first and, if you need advice or support, you are welcome to talk to me. Moreover, the University has a range of support services for students that can be accessed here:

The university provides ongoing support for students with visible and invisible impairments. Information about that support is available here:

If you need to apply for an aegrotat or compassionate consideration for a test, the relevant information can be found here:

If you need to apply for an aegrotat or compassionate consideration for an exam, the relevant information can be found here:

Course summary:

Date Details Due