Past Courses at the DC Jail

Since 2018, the Prison Scholars Program has offered an extensive lineup of for-credit and non-credit coursework and lectures taught by Georgetown faculty and distinguished guests at the D.C. Jail.

For-credit Courses

Description: For decades, Washington D.C. has been as known as ‘Chocolate City’. In 1957 D.C. became the first majority-Black major city in the United States. However, in recent years, gentrification has changed the residential landscape of D.C.—pushing out many longtime Black residents. As the cost of living rises, the future of Chocolate City remains tenuous. This course hopes to honor D.C. Black identity by analyzing Black literature—novels, short stories and poetry—set in the nation’s capital. We will read contemporary poets and authors such as Marita Golden and Edward P. Jones. Through their writing, the hope is to experience The District in a new light.

Taught by: Judy Lichtenberg

Description: An introduction to some of the central questions of philosophy through the writings of both traditional and contemporary authors. Questions addressed may include the relationship between mind and matter; between causation and free will; meaning, truth, and reality; knowledge, perception, belief, and thought. 

Taught by: Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò

Description: In this issues course we will discuss the topic of reparations, in dialogue with the specific case for trans-Atlantic slavery and the associated colonialism on the African continent. Reparations, and moral repair generally construed, are a kind of act that aims to respond to historical harms or injustices. They are a particularly interesting subject from the standpoint of ethical and political philosophy, in that they complicate, challenge, and (hopefully, ultimately) clarify central concepts in these aspects of philosophy, including responsibility, harm, restitution, and welfare. Finally, they provide the occasion for engaging productively with other relevant disciplines, notably history, social science, and even natural sciences like geology and environmental sciences.

Our aim at the level of contemporary moral issues will be to clarify for ourselves the debate around reparations for trans-Atlantic slavery. Our philosophical aim will be to clarify what political and moral relationships are at stake in issues like these, how they can be damaged and what it takes to repair them. These aims, with any luck, will support each other.

Taught by: Judith Lichtenberg

Description: The aims of the course are to introduce you to some basic problems in the philosophy of law and to develop your analytic skills in thinking, writing, and speaking. “Philosophy of law” brings together two giant subjects, philosophy and law. There are many things we could study in a course with this title; I’ve chosen a few of what I think are the most interesting ones.

Taught by: Joshua Miller

Description: This course is intended as an overview of the psychological foundations of morality, with thematic focus on empirical approaches to morality and a moral evaluation of the foundations of psychological research and practice. We will explore obedience to authority, motivated reasoning and bias, the nature of responsibility and agency, and willpower and the weakness of will. We will consider the ways in which empirical research has been used to either criticize or substantiate traditional views of morality in order to evaluate how successful such projects are. We will also evaluate what this research implies about how we should live and act, and how we should structure our lives, environments, and institutions. 

Taught by: Alphonso Saville

Description: In 1838, faced with rising debt from capital improvements and also declining profitability of their farms in Maryland and Pennsylvania, Jesuit leaders at Georgetown College made the decision to rid themselves of the burden of slave owning by selling 272 enslaved people to plantations in Louisiana. This course investigates the history of American religion and slavery during the colonial period through the first half of the nineteenth century by examining theological, ethical, and philosophical justifications for and against slavery and the slave trade. Our study aims to uncover how debates on slavery shaped and informed theological discussions about the nature of God, religious experience, public life and social justice. Course readings will include selections from the Georgetown Slavery Archives, and also selections from Musgroves’ Chocolate City; Murphy’s Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland; Babb’s Black Georgetown Remembered; additional primary readings may include selections from Ball’s Slavery in the United States; Pennington’s The Fugitive Blacksmith; and Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave.

Taught by: Drew Leder

Description: This course is based on a long-running Public Broadcasting TV show called “Closer to Truth.” The show takes on the deepest questions of life, discussing them with some of the celebrated thinkers of our modern era. These individuals include Nobel Prize and other award-winners, drawn from fields like philosophy, theology/religion, and the sciences—including physics, biology, psychology etc. The show is designed, produced and narrated by Robert Lawrence Kuhn, trained in the neurosciences, but also an author, international business consultant—and a seeker of truth.

The overarching topic of this course is that of “Searching for the Self.” This is a class for individuals who are engaged in self-reflection about who they are and the direction their life has taken. The subtitle, “an exploration of consciousness and cosmos,” signals that this sense of self will be challenged and expanded in many different directions. 

Taught by: Binio Binev

Description: This course is designed to introduce students to the concepts, theories, and processes of comparative politics, a subfield of political science. We begin by focusing on some general methodological and thematic frameworks. We confront questions regarding ideology and power, the state, legitimacy, identity, culture, society, and political economy in order to understand how complex social and political constructs function in the contemporary world. Next, we shift our attention to a variety of political forms such as democratic, authoritarian, totalitarian, and other non-democratic regimes, as well as towards their institutional dimensions such as electoral systems, political parties and party systems, executive-legislative relations, and prescriptions for divided societies. We will consider how institutional choices generally affect the ways in which political systems function. Finally, we will explore specific systems from around the world, all of which are characterized by a variety of challenges. These cases demonstrate that there are multiple avenues towards political development, some evolutionary and relatively peaceful and others revolutionary and violent. Throughout the case studies, we will analyze both the positive and negative consequences of political developments for societies. We will conclude by integrating the material covered throughout the course both methodologically and thematically.

Taught by: Binio Binev

Description: This course is designed to expose students to the variety of political systems and institutions in the contemporary world. All material is based on the presentation and analysis of case studies based on a set of 11 countries of geopolitical and demographic importance – Brazil, China, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. By introducing students to core concepts and arguments in the study of politics though particular cases, the course seeks to deepen students’ mastery of important historical and contemporary processes and institutions, the understanding of which is necessary in order to make sense of social, cultural, economic, and political continuities and changes in today’s globalized world.

Taught by: Marc Howard

Description: This course focuses on the concept of democracy, and the process of democratization, in historical and comparative perspective.  The lectures and readings will span many countries and most regions of the world, but the course’s focus will be thematic, rather than regional.  After going over definitions of democracy and democratization, the course will cover the main elements of the three historic “waves” of democratization, followed by the growing literature on different forms of authoritarianism.  We will then focus on such topics as political culture, civil society, political institutions, ethnicity and diversity, immigration and citizenship, and democracy assistance.  We will close by assessing the future prospects and challenges for democracy and democratization around the world.  Several class sessions will include student debates about certain topics that have produced a wide range of scholarly approaches and opinions.  By the end of the course, students will be familiar with, and knowledgeable about, many different countries and regions of the world, while also having a firm grasp of the central topics, arguments, and debates in the academic literature on democracy and democratization.

Taught by: Heidi Elmedorf

Description: So much in our world is built on a biological foundation, and gaining insights into that biology empowers people to make smarter decisions as individuals, as members of families, and as members of society. Biology lies at the heart of some of our greatest challenges – from infectious disease to mental health to nutrition to climate change – and also at the heart of some of our most profound progress – from vaccines to personalized medicine to bioengineering to genetic testing

Biology is not just the knowledge – the names of the organelles of a cell, the definition of the central dogma, the stages of development – that helps to explain each of these phenomena. Indeed, almost all knowledge in biology should come with a disclaimer that it represents simply our best current understanding of reality. Real biology is about how scientists discover new knowledge, what limits that knowledge, how one round of questions and answers can give rise to new questions, and how communicating science profoundly shapes our understanding of it. Science is an inherently social endeavor: society shapes science, and science shapes society.

Most introductory biology courses teach science as though biology is a car, and the class is a showroom at a car dealership – it’s all about the external features and gloss. Here we’ll tackle biology as though we are working in the service part of the dealership, looking under the hood, getting a bit dirty, and tinkering with the engine to really see how it runs.

The course will move through four case studies, introducing basic biology concepts and developing analytical and communication skills in the service of better understanding four current biology issues. Students will read from a range of scientific literature, apply their new knowledge on weekly problem sets, and hone their communication skills through both formal and informal writing.

Taught by: Melyssa Haffaf

Description: This course offers an introduction to some of the basic concepts and theoretical perspectives in Gender Studies with a focus on the study of men and masculinities. Drawing on interdisciplinary, intersectional and cross-cultural approaches, students will critically engage with issues of gender inequity, sexuality, family, work, media representation and imagery, popular culture, and history. Throughout the course, students will explore men’s gender role socialization and reflect on dominant discourses of masculinity and topics such as fatherhood, military, health, violence, etc.

Taught by: Marc Howard

Description: Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously wrote that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Yet today it is almost impossible for members of free society to go inside of prison walls, much less to interact with incarcerated people as human beings. This 1- credit UNXD course will prepare a select group of Georgetown seniors for life after graduation by exposing them to this forgotten and ignored element of our humanity. It is an extraordinary experience that they will cherish and that will inspire them for the rest of their lives.

Taught by: Marc Howard

Description: This course will address the following questions: Why does the U.S. maintain an incarceration rate that is seven times higher than other democracies, even though Americans are no more likely to be the victims of crimes than are people in other societies? Why is the U.S. one of the few democratic countries to sanction the death penalty? Why is the criminal justice system in this country the most punitive in the democratic world? In exploring these larger themes, we will start by focusing on the crucial underlying issue of race—both historically and in the contemporary period—before turning to the different elements of the criminal justice system, including the roles of prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges, as well as the routine practice of plea bargaining. We will then consider the issue of wrongful convictions, before turning to prison conditions, the incarceration of women, societal reentry, a comparative perspective on American punitiveness, and capital punishment.

Taught by: Michael G. Ryan

Description: This course is designed to cover personal and corporate finance. Our primary subject areas are account basics, cash flows, stocks, bonds, and funds, capital market history, and risk and return. Each student will receive a customized text that contains material from four different books covering accounting basics, corporate finance, personal finance and entrepreneurship.

Non-credit Courses

Taught by: Neil Roland

Description: Introduction to journalism, newspapers and politics. A veteran journalist will lead a seminar that explores principles and practices of journalism. Focus will be on newspapers, with discussions of how to read and analyze articles of various kinds.

Taught by: Cathy Schneider

Description: Democratic Erosion and Authoritarianism, we will explore the issue of democratic backsliding in general, and America’s retreat from democratic representation, in undermining American support for democratic rule.

Taught by: Joshua Miller

Description: In this course we will study standard theories of policing and crime as well as situated criticism from those with direct experience of both the policing and prison systems. We will focus on public health models for stemming violence, local insights into the opioid epidemic, and developing students’ research methodologies and programmatic knowledge of potential value in advocacy.  

Taught by: Emily Norweg

Description: One of many efforts to desegregate schools in the United States was a process that would become known simply as “busing.” By transporting students to schools outside of their neighborhoods, policymakers hoped that they could solve the problem of segregation in American education. Some of these efforts were involuntary—court-ordered mandates to force the schools of certain towns and cities to desegregate. Others, some of which still exist, included voluntary programs to give students the opportunity to attend schools in other neighborhoods, and sometimes, other towns. 

This reading-based course will use Matthew’s Delmont’s book Why Busing Failed (2016) as a guide to comparing and contrasting busing movements—from their implementation to the reactions they garnered—across the United States. Over the semester we will attempt to answer the question: “If busing failed, why so?” Sixty-five years after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered schools to desegregate in its landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, our nation’s schools remain segregated. If busing cannot alone achieve greater educational equity in the U.S., what can?

Taught by: Dylan Dellisanti

Description: The purpose of this course is to provide an introduction to basic economic theory through Tim Harford’s The Logic of Life. The course will show how basic economic principles apply not only to issues in political economy but also to everyday life. In doing so, students will learn the hidden order behind seemingly irrational behavior.

Taught by: Dylan DelliSanti

Description: Introduces microeconomics in the context of current problems. Explores how market mechanism allocates scarce resources among competing uses; uses supply, demand, production, and distribution theory to analyze problems.

Description: This course is intended as an overview of the psychological foundations of morality, with thematic focus on empirical approaches to morality and a moral evaluation of the foundations of psychological research and practice. We will explore obedience to authority, motivated reasoning and bias, the nature of responsibility and agency, and willpower and the weakness of will. We will consider the ways in which empirical research has been used to either criticize or substantiate traditional views of morality in order to evaluate how successful such projects are. We will also evaluate what this research implies about how we should live and act, and how we should structure our lives, environments, and institutions.

Taught by: Daniel Tutt

Description: In this course, we will explore key themes in social and political thought by reading and critically analyzing philosophical texts that have shaped our world and that inform our ideas of justice, truth and social change. The course will combine lecture with group discussion to arrive at a shared understanding of the key themes under consideration. 

Taught by: Hallie Liberto

Description: This course will focus on two themes: well-being and promises. These themes will be explored through reading difficult philosophical texts and watching provocative movies. Questions considered: Is deception justified to make people better off? Can you hurt someone after he or she is dead? Are there certain things that we do these days that are a little bit like getting into an experience machine?

Taught by: Hallie Liberto

Taught by: Hallie Liberto

Description: William Shakespeare’s plays explore the complex and rich inner lives of villains, heroes, and ordinary people. In this class, we will examine some problems in moral philosophy through the lens of four Shakespeare plays and their characters. The philosophical problems are: deception; envy; vengeance; and weakness of will. The Shakespeare plays we will use to explore these topics are: Measure for Measure; Much Ado About Nothing; The Merchant of Venice; and A Winter’s Tale. 

Taught by: Nolan Bennett and Joshua Miller

Taught by: Beba Cibralic

Description: Rapid innovations in data gathering and analysis, machine learning, and AI are transforming the world. The purpose of this course is to explore the social and ethical impacts of technological change on multiple scales and in different domains. These innovations carry potential for both social good and ethical danger. By taking an interdisciplinary approach and drawing from contributions in philosophy, computer science, and social science, the course will comprehensively examine the challenges and opportunities technology presents. Funding for this course was provided by a Laura Fleming Grant. 

Taught by: Randall Amster

New technologies are impacting every sphere of life, from education and media to work and the environment. In this course we will examine cutting-edge technologies including artificial intelligence, complex algorithms, and robotics, as well as the implications of widespread devices like smartphones, drones, and mobile apps. How do these technologies reflect power dynamics in society, political perspectives, and economic systems? Who has access to the benefits of these technologies, and who bears any burdens from them? What are the potential impacts on areas such as criminal justice, communications, and environmentalism? In discussing these topics, we will use shared readings from books and articles, as well as podcasts and other media artifacts (for example, Ear Hustle), and explore options for producing our own class projects focusing on the impacts of technology in contemporary society. 

Taught by: Benjamin Harbert

Taught by: Benjamin Harbert

Description: Both music and environmental sounds influence our experiences of where we are and who we are. Sounds helps us mark time as we wait, they define the character of neighborhoods, and can intervene in the chaos of the urban life. In this class, we will study sound by discussing ideas from readings, by listening critically, and by producing audio. In so doing, we will learn to think about “soundscapes, ” environments of sound that humans use to gain a sense of place and time. We will use this knowledge to investigate soundscapes of the jail and then figure out ways that the sound of jail could be improved. A major component of the class will be designing a digital audio experience of and for the jail. This is a collaborative workshop. Throughout the semester, we will be a creative team of consultants and producers making, distributing, and installing sounds in our environment.

Taught by: Nicole Meyer

Description: This course is for students who want to develop their mathematical skills and learn how mathematics and statistics can be applied to a variety of real-world scenarios such as personal finance, proper medication dosages, sustainable management of ecological resources, and issues related to genetic engineering. The goal of this course is threefold: (1) to provide you with basic mathematical skills needed to succeed in college-level mathematics courses; (2) to familiarize you with the art of using mathematics to model real-world scenarios in a variety of fields; and (3) to introduce you to the basics of statistics.  After successfully completing this course, you should be prepared to take a college-level course in probability and statistics or a college algebra course.

Description: What is research? How is it carried out? How do we know if it is “good” research? How can research improve policy and practice? This course offers an introduction to research methods. This course is designed to teach and train students on a variety of approaches available to researchers in order to best address a research question. As the title suggests, this class is “an introduction to the major research methods, their links to theory and practice, and their use in research projects.” As such, it centers on the criteria for selection of a particular method (or set of methods), as well as the learning of such method(s), in order to apply them to a particular project. It is not an advanced methods class on either quantitative or qualitative methods, but a general course offering discussions on the logic of research, whether studied at a comparative, historical, interpretative, or causal/multiple variable level.

Taught by: Joshua Miller and Michael Brick

Description: In this course we will explore the research methods used to create social scientific knowledge, as well as exploring research ethics in depth. Our goal will be to create a cohort of student-researchers capable of producing their own rigorous findings.  

Taught by: Rabbi Rachel Gartner

Description: In this course we’ll explore ancient Jewish mystical teachings that just may surprise us with their radical, empowering messages.  Jewish mystics offered teachings on everything from the nature of God to the nature of our souls that at once build on and depart from non-mystical Jewish teachings.   Forged in difficult times for the Jewish community, these texts emphasize finding holiness even in hard things, honoring the fullness of our humanity, and coping with vulnerability.  We’ll look at texts that are especially focused on cultivating an inner life and spiritual strengths to face the challenges of our times. 

Taught by: George Chochos

Description: This course will introduce students to theological traditions in the modern era–from the 19th century to the present moment. Particular attention will be paid to the historical context from which these theologies arise. Questions raised in this course will include: what does faith in God mean in a world where scientific rationality reigns? How does a theology of human and societal progression make sense in light of two World Wars? What does it mean to believe in a God who liberates while living in a world filled with racial oppression and economic injustice? What does God’s justice mean in light of human injustice? By reading works by theologians within each tradition, the course aims to show how theologies develop from the tension between particular historical traditions, sacred texts, and the existential conditions of the day that force theologians to reflect on who God is in their own time.

Taught by: Bruce Clark

Description: In this workshop, we will read and discuss short stories and plays written by a diverse group of award- winning writers. We’ll analyze the basic structure of works of fiction, focusing on plot, character development, setting, and style. Class members will complete short assignments related to the writing techniques we discuss.

Taught by: Daniel Breen and Yael Kiken

Taught by: Nathaniel Windon

Description: We will read Herman Melville’s 1850 masterpiece, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, slowly and carefully. In the process, we will unfold the novel’s nineteenth-century literary-historical context as well as the world of Melville’s own literary, religious, philosophical, technological, commercial, and scientific citations and allusions. We will seek to understand the multiple significances of Melville’s experiments with the novelistic genre and their relationship with his construction of “Americanness.”

Taught by: Rebecca Cassidy

Description: Mind-Body approaches – including meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, breathing techniques, art, music and movement are skills that can alleviate stress and foster self-awareness and self-care. The purpose of this course is to introduce a variety of mind-body modalities so students can determine techniques that work to for them to reduce their own stress and anxiety. Each week, student will learn a new meditation or mindfulness technique, practice it and discuss their experiences with members of the small group. Students will have an opportunity not only for individual attention and instruction, but also for sharing what they are learning about mind-body connections and themselves. Students will be asked to practice these various techniques on their own between weekly classes.

Taught by: Drew Leder

Description: We will study with this contemporary book which contains philosophical, psychological, and spiritual principles designed to relieve unnecessary suffering. Through living in the now we may experience greater joy, and escape mental hells of our own making. 

Taught by: Community Mediation DC Staff

Description: Three sessions on inclusive mediation and conflict resolution. These sessions will introduce the techniques and make participants familiar with the language of conflict resolution.  

Taught by: Daniel Levine

Description: Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis.  

Taught by: Emily Durso

Description: “Tenacity” is a full service set of tools for success in the workplace. Incorporating such scenarios as: how to work as a team, working with people very different from you, what happens when you make a mistake, how to talk to your supervisor, “netiquette” or how to write an email in a professional and respectful manner. The workplace has a code of behavior that once you understand the rules, you will fit in and understand your role and responsibilities creating a successful work experience.

Taught by: Allison Ross and the Georgetown Debate Team

Lecture Series

Kim Kardashian West

Clemetine Jacoby and Joshua Essex

Michael Eric Dyson

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

Binio Binev

Rabbi Rachel Gartner

Christopher Celenza

Lawrence Bartley

Kimberly Nelson