This fall, Yale University plans to offer a course that draws comparisons between the US prison system and some of the most brutal regimes in history, such as the Soviet gulags, Nazi Germany, and communist China.
The subject will be taught by history professor Timothy Snyder and philosophy professor Jason Stanley.
The online course description explains how the concept of incarceration is central to understanding a society, which is why it can provide a meaningful perspective on “basic questions of values and practices.”
It will focus on “investigating two of the major carceral systems of the twentieth century, the Soviet and the American,” and feature first-person accounts of the gulag and American prison.
Working on the US Incarceration System
Stanley introduced the idea of the course on Twitter, where he posted a thread that pointed out how the United States has had the highest incarceration rate in the world for many decades.
“Almost 10% of the WORLD’s prison population comes from the US’s traditionally oppressed minority, the 38 million Black Americans. US prisons are famous for brutality,” he wrote.
A small handful of ethnic groups in human history have faced such extraordinary rates of incarceration. But few for so many decades. Why perpetuate this cycle? Is this how the US wants history to remember it? As one of the most brutal prison societies in human history?
— Jason Stanley (@jasonintrator) July 5, 2021
Stanley started the thread by explaining how the media also played a role in altering public perception and attitudes about crime rates and that these patterns can still be seen today.
“We are seeing the media fan these flames again, by some of the techniques I discuss in my work and class. Reporting percentage rises, which can be shocking when the base rate is low. Ignoring national trends and context. What results is mass national panic, invariably racial,” he wrote.
The reaction to his thread was mixed. Some netizens seemed to support the course and expressed their hope for incarceration reform. However, others were not as positive.
We need to make a decision as a society whether incarceration should be aimed at punishment or rehabilitation. As long as we continue with a brutal and dehumanizing prison system, crime will be self-perpetuating.
— JKMcDonald (@JKMcDonald2) July 5, 2021
It'll be too busy being remembered as the country that lead the end of the world through climate change maybe.
But yeah, also everything you said in this thread.
— Jen Psaki & Simone Biles Stan (@brianmreiser41) July 5, 2021
I don’t believe what you are saying is true. What are we supposed to do with people who break the law then? Violent offenders, rapists, murders? Build them a retreat?
— NOBOUNDARY (@NOBOUNDARY8) July 6, 2021