Mass Incarceration in the United States

Two small, dingy enclosed areas, each containing a small cot, and an entry way made up of metal bars.

A pair of prison cells at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, San Francisco, CA. (Image by Jumilla on Flickr. License CC BY.)


MIT Course Number


As Taught In

Fall 2020



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Course Description

Course Features

Course Description

This course covers the current state of incarceration in the United States and proposals for reform. Class materials include a mix of firsthand/media accounts of incarceration and social science literature on the causes and effects of high incarceration rates. Topics include race and the criminal legal system, collateral consequences of incarceration, public opinion about incarceration, and the behavior of recently elected "reform" prosecutors.

Related Content

Ariel White. 17.271 Mass Incarceration in the United States. Fall 2020. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare, License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

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