CAU offers summer seminars on crime and punishment

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Melissa Osgood

Crime is big business in America.

With more than 2.2 million people behind bars, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. We also have a hearty appetite for TV courtroom dramas, crime documentaries, cop shows and prison “dramedies,” from “Law and Order: SVU,” “NCIS,” and “48 Hours” to “Cops,” “America’s Most Wanted,” and “Orange is the New Black.” When the miniseries “The People vs. O. J. Simpson” premiered in February it drew a viewership of more than 5 million.

What accounts for our high rates of incarceration and our fascination with law and order? And why do some of our nation’s biggest trials keep their grip on our imaginations long after the judge’s gavel has fallen? These themes will be explored in depth in two summer programs offered by Cornell’s Adult University (CAU).

In Behind Bars: Mass Incarceration and the Carceral State (July 10-16), participants will spend mornings in discussions at Cornell and afternoons at the Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, New York. With inmates, they’ll explore some of the pervasive problems of the American criminal justice system, led by Mary Katzenstein, the Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor of American Studies and former faculty director of the Cornell Prison Education Program, and Joseph Margulies, visiting professor of law and of government and counsel of record on cases involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station. Topics will include the war on drugs, police/community relations, current distinctions between violent and nonviolent crimes, and the growing movement to reform the system.

In Ten Great American Trials (July 24–30), Faust Rossi and Glenn Altschuler will analyze 10 compelling 20th-century trials, including the Scottsboro Boys, Sacco and Vanzetti, Leopold and Loeb, Alger Hiss, the Skokie marchers, Claus von Bülow, McMartin Preschool and O. J. Simpson. Altschuler, the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies and dean of Cornell’s School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, and Rossi, the Samuel S. Leibowitz Emeritus Professor of Trial Techniques at Cornell Law School, come to this course steeped in research for their eponymous book on the subject, soon to be published by the American Bar Association.

CAU sponsors four weeks of programming on the Cornell campus every summer as well as travel adventures around the world all year long. Led by acclaimed Cornell faculty, these programs are open to Cornell alumni, families, and friends – and to anyone interested in learning something new in the company of interesting and collegial companions.


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