New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



62 Journal of Legal Education 218 (2012)


To judge from the curriculum at most American law schools, the criminal justice process starts with the investigation of a crime and ends with a determination of guilt. But for many if not most defendants, the period from arrest to verdict (or plea) is only a preamble to an extended period under state control. It is during the administration of punishment that the state’s criminal justice power is at its zenith, and at this point that the laws constraining the exercise of that power become most crucial. Yet it is precisely at this point that the curriculum in most law schools falls silent. This essay argues that that silence is a problem, and that American law schools should expand their curricular offerings to include some class or classes covering the post-conviction period. There are innumerable arguments supporting this reform. These include the sheer number of people in custody, the extreme vulnerability of this population and its enormous unmet legal need, and the fact that any law student who is planning a career in criminal justice — and thus involved in the process by which people are sent to prison — should be exposed to the realities of the American penal system and its governing legal framework. This essay canvasses these and other reasons for the proposed reform, suggests what a course in Prison Law might cover, sketches the possible contents of a broader post-conviction curriculum, and argues that the current gap in the course offerings of most law schools only reinforces the invisibility of vast carceral system currently operating in the United States and the millions of Americans caught up in it.

Date of Authorship for this Version



criminal law, legal education, criminal justice system, expansion of criminal law curriculum