There is a profound disconnect between the reality of the criminal justice system and the criminal law curriculum. The typical Criminal Law course and casebook focus a great deal of attention on the justificatory theories of punishment. Coverage of criminal law doctrine, meanwhile, usually concerns itself with how the common law and Model Penal Code each approach a handful of crimes and defenses, particularly homicide offenses. As Alice Ristroph argued in her recent essay, The Curriculum of the Carceral State, the result is a “curricular canon [that] depicts criminal law as a necessary and race-neutral response to grave injuries, and it also depicts criminal law as capable of self-restraint through various internal limiting principles.”
This model gives students a wildly inaccurate understanding of the how criminal law operates in the era of mass incarceration, in which the United States has five percent of the world’s population but twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. It also leaves students poorly prepared for criminal practice, where drug and property crimes—not homicides—are the paradigmatic offenses. It has been difficult for criminal law teachers to move away from this model, however, in no small part because of the bar exam’s focus on homicides and MPC-versus-common law framework. In this webinar, Alex Kreit will discuss strategies for making the criminal law we teach in our classes look more like the criminal law students will encounter in the real world, by incorporating coverage of non-justificatory theories of punishment (e.g., punishment as a tool of social control), drug crimes, racial disparities in criminal enforcement, and more.