The Prison-Industrial Complex: Explorations in Social Psychology and Writing

Winter 2018
Spring 2018
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Mark Hurst square
Suzanne Simons square
poetry and literary arts, community studies/Middle East studies, journalism

What led to the massive rise in incarceration in America over the past 40 years? What are some solutions in prevention, strategies to strengthen resilience while incarcerated, and ways to integrate formerly incarcerated populations back into their communities? Demonizing individuals and groups is a classic strategy used in psychology and perpetuated by mass media to motivate one population to discriminate against, hate, commit violence toward, and even annihilate an “out group.” With nearly four decades of failure to fund mental health care and substance abuse treatment, America’s jails and prisons have become the default solution to many social ills. Despite evidence that punishment of this kind does not work, incarceration in all its forms is garnering a greater portion of resources than ever.

Many of our ideas and opinions about mass incarceration have been shaped by mass media. Meanwhile, the most popular genre of writing by incarcerated men and women is poetry, both literary and spoken word. In this writing-intensive eight-credit, two-quarter program, we will examine media coverage of criminal justice and the prison system; explore poetry, fiction, and nonfiction writing of residents of correctional facilities; and practice fundamentals of journalism and poetry. We will also examine fundamental psychological research underlying social cognition, stereotypes, prejudice, attitude formation and change, and self-deception and self-justification. We'll look at the roles and practices of politics, the justice system, and media in “belief transmission” to uncover the foundations of social stratification, covert and overt classism and racism, mandatory minimum sentencing, the privatization of prisons, the uses of solitary confinement, and the new threat of hyper-militarized police practices, weapons, and tactics. Additionally, we will identify evidence-based practices that look to resolve these issues using a different lens (early education, adequate mental health care and drug treatment, restorative justice, community-based journalism and poetry, positive psychology, etc.). We will call on leaders and participants from many arenas to help us examine the critical questions and potential answers in addressing this growing identification of the U.S. as a “prison nation.”

This program is relevant for careers in psychology, media and journalism, government, criminal justice, law enforcement, social services, education, law, and the arts. Credit will be awarded in psychology, journalism, and poetry.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: psychology, media, journalism, government, criminal justice, law enforcement, social services, education, and law

Online learning:
  • Enhanced Online Learning - This offering requires access to web-based tools, but use of these tools does not displace any face-to-face instruction.

$20 in Winter and $10 in Spring for entrance fees for off-campus activities (exhibits, museums, or plays) related to program themes.

Scheduled for: Weekend

Located in: Olympia

Final schedule and room assignment:


Advertised schedule:

Intensive weekends: Saturdays and Sundays, 9a-5p: Winter Jan 13/14, 27/28, Feb 10/11, 24/25, Mar 10/11. Spring Apr 7/8, 21/22, May 5/6, 19/20, Jun 2/3.