Liman Public Interest Workshop

The Criminal Systems at a Crossroads

Spring 2020 Syllabus

Mondays, 6:10-8 pm, Room 124


Ali Harrington, Senior Liman Fellow in Residence, Office Hours: By appointment

Jamelia Morgan, Senior Liman Fellow Affiliate, Associate Professor, University of Connecticut School of Law,  Office Hours, By appointment/By Phone

Anna VanCleave, Director, Liman Center, Office Hours: Thursdays 10 am to 12 noon

Student Directors

Julia Coppleman, Stephanie Garlock, Samantha Grayman, B. Rey


The systemic and individual harms of the criminal legal system are not new. But with events like the protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities; increased focus on rates of incarceration; high profile cases of misconduct, wrongful conviction, and extreme sentencing; and recordings of racialized police violence, certain aspects of the criminal justice crisis are receiving greater attention. In response, reform efforts are gaining ground at local, state, and national levels. Strategies include community mobilization, policy advocacy, litigation, electoral politics, and coalition work that combines these efforts.

This seminar explores the movements for change and the objectives and methods of those pushing for reforms, both across the country and here in Connecticut. Topics include: frames, narratives, and strategies for change; decriminalization and policing; the funding of criminal systems, by individuals and by governments; pretrial liberty, detention, and bail; extreme sentencing and efforts to curb it; the right to counsel, the quality of appointed counsel, and lawyering for people in prison; conditions of confinement and isolation in prisons; and privatization and profits from the criminal system.

As we move through the topics, we will explore the tensions and choices between incremental and large-scale efforts; the roles of history, race, and class; the use of narrative and framing as strategies; how to understand and evaluate the success of movements for change; anticipating and reflecting on failures and backlash; and the meaning of abolition.

We ask that you approach the readings with a critical eye. Know that the readings we have selected are not necessarily ones we agree with, and that all of the readings are meant to be in conversation with each other and with you.

Requirements, Credits, and Readings

We meet weekly from 6:10 pm to 8:00 pm. Preparation for and attendance at these discussions is required for credit.  All readings will be available on the Yale Law School Canvas website, In each class, we will indicate the readings that are required and those that are optional. Do note that, after the first week, we will explain in each class which materials are assigned. If you need to miss a class, please be in touch with the professors in advance of the meeting. The Workshop can be taken ungraded or for credit.  Whether taking the class for graded or ungraded credit, students missing more than two sessions without permission cannot receive credit.

If choosing credit/fail, a student must submit written reflections four times during the semester after the first session. The reflections should comment on the assigned readings and the relationships among the materials. The reflections should be no more than two pages (double-spaced, size-12 font). The point is for other students and the instructors to be able to read comments in advance of the class, so that discussions can build from these exchanges. Students must email their reflections to the instructors and to Elizabeth Keane, the Liman Center Coordinator, and post their reflections on the Course Discussions page of Canvas NO LATER than Sunday at 1 p.m. before that week’s session.  Students who do not complete and send reflections four times during the semester cannot receive credit for the class.

Students with documented disabilities should contact Yale University Student Accessibility Services by email to the director, Sarah Scott Chang (, to request accommodation for examinations or other course related needs. Student Accessibility Services will work directly with the Registrar’s Office on accommodations.