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Social Justice Teaching Resources from 1974

Teaching Radical Criminology

Barry Krisberg

Instructors: Barry Krisberg, Tony Platt, and Paul Takagi

Criminology 100 A-B

I. Background

For the last several years the School of Criminology at the University of California, Berkeley provided a place in which students and faculty could interact and share viewpoints about radical criminology. Early attempts were tentative and exploratory, but a viable dialogue was beginning to outline the major issues which would be included in radical criminology. Several of us had focused upon critiques of liberal conceptions of crime and crime control; others were doing basic historical research to fill the enormous gaps in our understanding of the "contours of American history"; still others were deeply involved in community work and social struggles surrounding the issues of crime and social justice. The substance of our work was being introduced into courses offered at the School of Criminology, but there did not exist a single course offering which self-consciously attempted to impart radical criminology to large numbers of Berkeley undergraduates.

In the fall of 1972, an opportunity was presented to some of us to structure a course that would allow us to integrate and refine the products of our work and discussions. The course, Criminology 100 A-B, had traditionally been an introduction to the field of criminology which presented material superficial way to both majors and non-majors. Most instructors tried to avoid being assigned to teach this course because of the large enrollments and the frustrations of broad survey courses. The three of us (Barry Krisberg, Tony Platt, and Paul Takagi) decided to collectively redesign and teach the course as a means of crystallizing our own ideas and to obtain comradely criticism from Berkeley students. We immediately recognized that both the method and substance of the course would have to be altered to effectively communicate the emerging ideas of radical criminology.

II. Methods

The first problem to be faced was the complete lack of textbooks which resonated with our own positions. To overcome this problem we assembled anthologies of material from a wide variety of sources to support and expand our lecture material. We were also convinced that guest lecturers and films should be used extensively to expand the style of communication and to dramatize some of our key organizing principles. Collective teaching was taken to be of prime importance, and this meant that the three instructors met weekly, often with guests and students, to plan and organize each class session.

Student response to the course was overwhelming. Nearly 600 students enrolled for the first quarter which was devoted to the definition of crime and crime causation; and over 300 attended the second half of the two-quarter sequence which was devoted to social control and the criminal justice system. This was the largest number of students that had ever enrolled in a criminology course at Berkeley. This year the enrollment figures for Crim. 100 A-B are even larger than the first offering of the course.

The sheer weight of numbers limited our options in terms of innovations in course assignments and the structure of the learning process (i.e., there was little chance to use dialogical or problem-posing pedagogy advocated by educators such as Paulo Freire). The second problem was that individual research projects were difficult to handle without the opportunity to give close personal attention to 600 students. We also learned that the mass setting inhibited many students from asking critical questions; financial limitations meant that we were not able to design a system to provide small group discussion sections. The class was divided into sections led by each instructor, but these tended to be large in size (150-200 students) and thus the lecture situation remained dominant. Although this proved a problem for us there are probably solutions which can be worked out, and we welcome suggestions in this area. Finally, the size problem limited the amount of feedback which the instructors could give students on their final exams and projects.

III. Organization of the Course

In Crim. 100A, we discussed the definition of crime, ideology and scholarships theory and practice, the crimes of imperialism, the crimes of capitalism, the crimes of racism, the crimes of sexism, and crimes by the state. We critiqued legal and liberal sociological definitions of crime which were grounded in theories of society that attempt to justify and legitimate conditions of inhumanity, exploitation and inequality. We argued for a human rights definition of crime which expanded the legal definition to include system crimes (i.e., racism, sexism, etc.) and crimes by the state. Herman Schwendinger was the guest lecturer, and expanded upon issues which he and Julia Schwendinger developed in their articles. Liberal conceptions of crime limit the inquiry of criminologists to the crimes of the powerless, and result in a science of crime and social control limited to narrow technocratic solutions or social engineering. In our view, legally defined "criminals" were really victims of the larger system crimes such as imperialism and racism which denied whole classes of people (and even countries) their full human potentiality and their right to survival, self-determination and dignity. Robert Scheer spoke to the class about the dynamics of imperialism. He drew parallels between the U.S. war against Vietnam and legal principles developed at the Nuremburg War Criminal Trials. Paul Jacobs discussed several examples of crimes by the state, including the operations of agents provocateurs, FBI intelligence gathering and the treatment of political dissent. Percy Moore, Lin Chi Wang, and Philip Veracruz offered a fascinating analysis of economic exploitation as it affected Blacks in West Oakland, Chinese-Americans working in sweatshop conditions in San Francisco's Chinatown, and the struggle of the farm workers. Films used included "Hiroshima-Nagasaki," "The Battle of Algiers," "Growing up Female," "Hunger in America," "The Murder of Fred Hampton," and 'The Winter Soldier Investigation."

During the second quarter (Crim. 100B), we examined social control and the criminal justice system. The material was organized around an historical understanding of the Progressive Era (1880-1920), which was the crucial period for the construction of the modem Criminal Justice System and the Welfare State in the United States. Lectures covered the struggles of the period, involving race oppression, class struggles, Americanization, and the rise of "rational" models of social control. We pointed out such institutions as the juvenile court, the indeterminate sentence, the reformatory, the eugenics movement, Americanization programs, the rise of private police forces and counter-insurgency techniques which emerged out of the sociopolitical conflicts of this period. After putting forth the historical foundations, we discussed liberal theories of social control, the rise of social control agencies and their relationship to the political economy, liberation struggles, the contemporary injustices of the criminal justice system, and the hegemonic functions of social control.

During the previous quarter, students expressed a desire to hear the "liberal position" on these issues. To answer this request we invited several spokespersons from "establishment" or liberal viewpoints. These included a local police chief, an FBI agent, a criminal justice planner, and an Assistant District Attorney. These guests were given complete freedom to express their views, and the sessions resulted in lively question and answer periods in which students had the opportunity to raise critical questions with each speaker.

We invited Elliott Currie to talk about his historical research on the rise of the reformatory movement in the United States. Elaine Brown and Ericka Huggins discussed the experience of the Black Panther Party with the criminal justice system; Earl Caldwell and Carolyn Craven spoke about the management of news, the harassment of reporters by police and FBI agents, and the one-sided nature of most crime reporting. Films in the Crim. 100B course included "Burn," "Law and Order," and the "Attica Commission Report." (This year we added films made by the United States Army about the placing of Japanese-Americans into concentration camps in the western United States.)

IV. Evaluation of the Crim. 100 A-B Experience

Subjected to the close and, most often, comradely criticism by our students, we understood that many of the crucial conceptual issues of radical criminology needed to be further developed. Moreover, there were political differences between the instructors that required a good deal of time to discuss in order to provide coherent presentations. We never debated one another in front of the class, fearing that the "theatrical" setting would not be conducive to true dialogue. Perhaps we were wrong, and future collective teaching efforts ought to share the private "uncertainties" which provided a learning experience for the instructors.

Our selection of readings was unanimously acclaimed by the students. (A list of the most significant readings are attached.) Two criticisms of the course were: "It's biased," and "Too much rhetoric." We are not too troubled by the first remark. Education is essentially political and all courses are biased. We were more open and candid about our value positions than is typical in most university courses. It is time that our liberal and conservative counterparts are forced to make explicit their ideological positions. To paraphrase C. Wright Mills: we made our biases open so that others could discover their own. The problem of "rhetoric" is more bothersome, because the cry of "too much rhetoric" itself can be a rhetorical device that obscures the real issues posed by the course. In general, it can be said that any radical content, regardless of how it is presented, is often accused of being rhetorical. We attempted to be scientific and to present systematic evidence for all our theoretical and empirical assertions. We need to understand how the language of science and the language of social change can be merged.

The course was a success in terms of student evaluations and the personal growth of the three instructors. Perhaps the most important lesson we learned was that to teach radical criminology was to encourage students to demand more participation in the learning process. Their demands for more innovation in the areas of grading, content, course requirements, and the personal commitment of the instructors to continue the dialogues outside of the classroom setting, attests to the success of the course in arousing a spirit of participatory democracy in higher education. This is taking place at the point in history when colleges and universities are becoming more rigid, more authoritarian and less tolerant of the free exchange of ideas.

Course Readings

I. Prospects For A Radical Criminology

Tony Platt, "Prospects for a Radical Criminology in the United States." Crime and Social Justice 1 (Spring/Summer, 1974).

Alexander Liazos, "The Poverty of the Sociology of Deviance: Nuts, Sluts, and Preverts." Social Problems 20(1) (Summer, 1972).

II. Praxis and the Definition Of Crime

Herman and Julia Schwendinger, "Defenders of Order or Guardians of Human Rights?" Issues in Criminology 5(2) (Summer, 1970).

David Gordon, "Class and the Economics of Crime." The Review of Radical Political Economics 3(3) (Summer, 1971).

Paul Jacobs, "Precautions Are Being Taken By Those Who Know: An Inquiry into the Power and Responsibilities of the AEC." The Atlantic (February, 1971).

Marlene Dixon, "Academic Roles and Functions." The Insurgent Sociologist 2 (Spring, 1972).

Ruth and Victor Sidel, "The Human Services in China" and Frank Riesman, "Postscript: The Politics of Human Service: China and the United States." Social Policy 2(6) (March-April,1972).

Mao Tse-tung, "Speech at the Chinese Communist Party's National Conference on Propaganda Work." Peking: Foreign Language Press.

III. Crime of Imperialism

Robert Scheer, "The Languageof Torturers." Sundance (August-September, 1972).

Harry M. Cleaver, Jr., "The Contradictions of the Green Revolution." Monthly Review 24 (June 1972).

Michael T. Klare, "Policingthe Empire." Commonweal (September 18, 1970).

IV. Crimes of Exploitation

Felix Greene, "The Face of Capitalism," in The Enemy. New York: Vintage, 1971.

Howard Wachtel, "Capitalism and Poverty in America: Paradox or Contradiction?" Monthly Review 24 (June, 1972).

V. Crimes of Racism

Ben Tong, "Ghetto of the Mind: Notes on the Historical Psychology of Chinese Americans." Amerasia Journal l(l) (November, 1971).

"The Panther 21: To Judge Murtagh," in Law Against the People. Edited by Robert Lefcourt. New York: Vintage, 1971.

Tom Hayden, The Love of Possession Is a Disease with Them (pp. 98-118). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.

Marvin Harris, "The Rise of Racial Determinism" and "Spencerism," in The Rise of Anthropological Theory. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1968.

VI. Crimes of Sexism

Juliet Mitchell, "Women: The Longest Revolution." New Left Review (November-December 1966).

Susan Griffin, "Rape: The All-American Crime." Ramparts (September, 1971).

Dorie Klein, "The Etiology of Female Crime: A Review of the Literature." Issues in Criminology 8(2) (Fall, 1973).

VII. Crimes of Survival

Alan Sutter, "Playing a Cold Game." Urban Life and Culture (April, 1972).

Barry Krisberg, "Gang Youth and Hustling: The Psychology of Survival." Issues in Criminology 9(1) (Spring, 1974).

George Jackson, Soledad Brother (pp. 3-16). New York: Bantam Books, 1970.

John Pallas and Bob Barber, "From Riot to Revolution." Issues in Criminology 7(2) (Fall, 1972).

VIII. Crimes by the State

Eldridge Cleaver, "Domestic Law and International Order," in Soul on Ice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968.

Paul Takagi, "A Garrison State in a 'Democratic' Society." Crime and Social Justice 1 (Spring/Summer 1974).

Alan Wolfe, "Political Repression and the Liberal Democratic State." Monthly Review (December, 1971).

Tony Platt, "The Triumph of Benevolence: The Origins of the Juvenile Justice System in the United States," in Criminal Justice in America: A Critical Understanding. Edited by Richard Quinney: New York: Little, Brown, 1974.

IX. People's Justice

"The Struggle Inside." Pamphlet prepared for the Prison Action Conference, University of California, Berkeley, January 28-30, 1972.

Michael Tigar, "Socialist Law and Legal Institutions," in Law Against the People. Edited by Robert Lefcourt. New York: Vintage, 1971.

Arthur Waskow, "Community Control of the Police." Transaction (December, 1969).

Harold Nelson, "The Defenders: A Case Study of an Informal Police Organization." Social Problems 15(2) (Fall, 1967).

From Crime and Social Justice 1 (Spring-Summer 1974): 64-66. Social Justice is published quarterly. Copyright © 1974 by Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. Social Justice, P.O. Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140. SocialJust@aol.com.