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POL 313 Democracy, Politics, and Punishment

This course explores the way in which our policing and punishment policies affect democratic decision-making and vice-versa. The central question considered is this: How do our policing and imprisonment practices affect democratic legitimacy in the United States? To answer this question, students will examine theories of participatory democracy that link widespread political participation to democratic legitimacy. Students will then consider the interconnections between several important public institutions such as the police, prisons, schools, voting, elections, and the interest group system. Significant focus is given to issues of race and racism.


Special information

First day attendance is mandatory.

Learning outcomes


  • Demonstrate an understanding of theories of participatory democracy and the relationship between widespread political participation and democratic legitimacy.
  • Analyze the interconnection and interaction of various political institutions, such as the police, prisons, schools, voting, elections, and the interest group system.
  • Critically evaluate the impact of policing and punishment strategies on the political efficacy of communities of color and low-income people with regard to electoral politics.
  • Compare, contrast, and critically evaluate competing discourses regarding crime, criminality, police power, and punishment and the intersections with race and racism.

Minnesota Transfer Curriculum

Goal 5: History and the Social and Behavioral Sciences

  • Employ the methods and data that historians and social and behavioral scientists use to investigate the human condition.
  • Examine social institutions and processes across a range of historical periods and cultures.
  • Use and critique alternative explanatory systems or theories.
  • Develop and communicate alternative explanations or solutions for contemporary social issues.

Goal 9: Ethical and Civic Responsibility

  • Examine, articulate, and apply their own ethical views.
  • Understand and apply core concepts (e.g. politics, rights and obligations, justice, liberty) to specific issues.
  • Analyze and reflect on the ethical dimensions of legal, social, and scientific issues.
  • Recognize the diversity of political motivations and interests of others.
  • Identify ways to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.