Advanced Research in Criminal Justice

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
THU 2:00 - 5:00 pm SRH 3.314


Course Overview

This course will involve an intensive team research project related to the challenges of aging in prison. We will be conducting the work on behalf of a community partner, the ACLU’s National Prison Project, and we will have responsibility for updating sections of a major report on this topic that the National Prison Project published 12 years ago (At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly).

Geriatric individuals represent the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population due to 1990s-era policies allowing for the imposition of extremely long sentences, including life without parole. Many of those sentenced in the 1990s are now hitting their 50s and 60s or beyond, and policy makers and corrections officials are now reaping the consequences of those tough-on-crime policies. Aging in prison presents numerous challenges, including high medical costs, chronic health needs, management of a physically vulnerable population, dementia, mobility concerns, and hospice needs. At the same time, this population presents few public safety risks, if they were to be released to the community, but in many cases, the individuals have nowhere to go. And, for many people, the law currently prohibits their release. From humanitarian, cost, and public safety standpoints, the geriatric population in prison is an ideal target for policymakers to consider for decarceration efforts.

Our class will be doing a 50-state analysis of elder incarceration issues. We will gather and analyze demographic data, examine the impact that COVID had on this older population, identify strategies such as compassionate release for reducing the number of geriatric individuals behind bars, highlight policies that states have implemented to address the aging population, and assess the fiscal impact of savings from early releases. A large part of our efforts will be focused on data analysis and the creation of graphs to illustrate our findings, and we will also be translating this data into prose.

The first few weeks of the course will involve substantive classes and a few assigned readings to provide students with the necessary background for their research project. After that, the class will function more informally, with regular meetings between student teams and the instructor to ensure ongoing progress. Teams will likely each consist of three to five students, with each team working on different aspects of the larger project. Students will be investigating practices all over the country, and will have the opportunity to speak with experts and practitioners as part of their research.

There may also be an opportunity to visit a Texas prison facility that holds a large number of geriatric individuals.


This course is limited to second-year LBJ students who have had IEM and who have an understanding of descriptive statistics and analysis. No advanced statistical background is necessary. First-year LBJ students with relevant background can be admitted by permission of the instructor. Law students do not need to have this statistical analysis background, but should be comfortable with policy analysis.

Students should be prepared to engage in substantial research and writing, and should be comfortable working in teams on a significant project. While a background in criminal justice or corrections is not required for the class, it would certainly be helpful.


This project is being coordinated by the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab (PJIL) at the LBJ School. PJIL is a national policy resource center focused on ways to improve the safe and humane treatment of people in custody. Course instructors Michele Deitch and Alycia Welch serve, respectively, as Director and Associate Director of PJIL.

Our community partner is the ACLU’s National Prison Project (NPP), the country’s leading prisoners’ rights organization. The NPP’s project lead is Alyssa Gordon, a 2022 graduate of UT Law School and a former student of Michele’s, who is the NPP’s Borchard Fellow. The directors of the NPP are David Fathi and Corene Kendrick (LBJ 1996), both of whom are nationally-respected attorneys. Students will have the opportunity to learn from all of them during the semester.

Learning Objectives

Through this class, students will develop skills in conceptualizing, conducting, and completing a significant research project that will be of use to policymakers, corrections practitioners, journalists, and advocates. They will learn how to research and write for a policy audience, and will improve their skills in data analysis and fiscal analysis. Students will also improve their teamwork and project management skills.  

Course Requirements and Grading

Students are expected to attend all classes and team meetings, participate fully in the group work activities, submit work to their teammates in a timely manner, and produce work products that are well-written, accurately analyzed, and responsive to the assignments. Each team will produce a variety of work products, to be determined in collaboration with our partner. Teams may also be asked to conduct an oral briefing about their research.

Students will be graded on the basis of the quality of their individual contributions to the group project, the overall group project (a team grade), and on class participation.  Students will also be asked to submit a self-assessment as well as an assessment of their fellow team members’ participation in the group work.

This course is cross-listed between the LBJ School and the Law School, which will allow for an interdisciplinary approach to this topic.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

No materials required


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