Introduction to Corrections

Introduction to Corrections

Course Description

Introduction to Corrections is a three-credit introductory class equivalent to John Jay’s COR 101. Instructors at the community college partner campuses should adhere as closely to the following course description from John Jay’s catalog and include it on their course syllabus:

This course is intended as an introduction to the corrections system and will provide an overview of current institutional practices, policies, and legal issues. The course focuses on the relation of corrections to the criminal justice system, theories underlying correctional practice, and the role of institutions within the corrections system. Specifically, this course provides an overview of the field of corrections. It reviews the historical development of crime and corrections, sentencing, jails, prisons, correctional policies, agencies, prison life, and challenges facing correctional populations. It will further explore the principles and practices of treatment accorded to offenders in various types of correctional settings.

Learning Objectives

Assuming active study and attendance, by the end of the semester students should be able to:

  • Explain the historical development of corrections from the Middle Ages onward and identify the purposes of punishment.
  • Describe trends in sentencing and corrections, including the factors that led to mass incarceration and its racial implications.
  • Understand the development and types of prisoners’ legal rights.
  • Compare and contrast the different functions and operations of jails, prisons, probation, parole, and intermediate sanctions.
  • Understand the issues regarding the incarceration of women.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the core controversies surrounding the death penalty.
  • Explain the emergent problem of prisoner reentry and the barriers to reintegration.
  • Identify the major challenges in contemporary corrections, including the rise in mentally disordered offenders, private prisons, soaring costs, and wrongful convictions.


As America confronts the consequences of mass incarceration, the study of corrections has never been more important. It is important for instructors to emphasize that the country’s high incarceration rate is not just historically unprecedented, but internationally unique. Indeed, the United States has just 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. One of every four American adults has been arrested or convicted of a crime.

In introducing the subject matter, instructors should point out that corrections refers not just to institutions, but also to the practices that society uses to confine, control, and correct the behavior of offenders. The key components of the correctional system are: intermediate sanctions, probation, jail, prison, and parole. In 2013, approximately 7 million people in the U.S., or 1 of every 35 adults, was under some form of correctional supervision.


The following textbooks are shorter, less expensive alternatives to the 450-page hardcover versions that can cost students nearly $200. They are well suited for 12-week semesters and ideal for instructors looking for material that emphasizes real-world concepts and applications. The most current editions are visually engaging and feature current, high-profile cases to reinforce learning objectives. Also included are interviews of working professionals that showcase the range of careers in the field of corrections.

American Corrections in Brief, 3rd ed. 
Todd R. Clear, George F. Cole, Michael D. Reisig, Carolyn Petrosino
ISBN-10: 1305633733 | ISBN-13: 9781305633735
© 2017

Corrections Today, 3rd ed. 
Larry J. Siegel; Clemens Bartollas
ISBN-10: 1305261089 | ISBN-13: 9781305261082
© 2016

Instructors might also consider assigning one of the following books, which students tend to enjoy because they are written in a narrative style and offer highly readable accounts by people who have worked in the field.

Conover, Ted. 2001. Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. New York: Vintage Books.  

Solotaroff, Ivan. 2002. The Last Face You’ll Ever See: The Private Life of the American Death Penalty. New York: Perennial Books.

Wynn, Jennifer. 2001. Inside Rikers: Stories from the World’s Largest Penal Colony. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Classroom Etiquette

Discussion of criminal justice issues may challenge personal beliefs and incite emotional responses. Therefore, it is important to follow the norms of academic discussion and debate at all times. Students should raise their hands before speaking and not interrupt when others are speaking. Students should be prepared to state why they hold a certain belief (how they know what they know) if they expect to persuade others that their opinion is worth consideration. CUNY students come from a diverse range of ethnic, social, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Classroom discussions are enriched when students can compare practices and ideologies in the U.S. with those of their countries of origin.

Student Responsibilities

  • Attend all class sessions and participate. Attendance and participation contribute significantly to academic success.
  • Do not arrive late. It is distracting and unprofessional.
  • Schedule at least two hours of study time outside of class for each hour the class meets.
  • Read the assigned material! Don’t rely entirely on the instructor to present every detail.
  • Cell phones must be turned completely off during class time and no texting is permitted at any time during class.


Faculty Responsibilities

  • Assignments will be graded and returned to students within one week.
  • Timely feedback will be provided to students regarding their progress.
  • Faculty will make themselves available for student consultations and will respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner.
  • Attendance will be taken and reported to the Registrar's Office for State and Federal reporting purposes.


Research Paper

You are a judge who has been chosen by the Vera Institute of Justice to analyze European corrections and sentencing policies and practices with the purpose of recommending changes to the U.S. Sentencing Commission to address America’s problem of mass incarceration.

You will use the Vera Institute of Justice report “Sentencing in Germany and Netherlands,” and Michael Moore’s 8½-minute documentary on Bastoy Island off the southern coast of Norway (go to YouTube and type in the search bar: Michael Moore Goes to Norway & Visits a Prison of the Future) to write a five-page paper that compares and contrasts the corrections and sentencing practices of the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Based on outcome measures such as violent crime rates, incarceration, and recidivism rates, what recommendations would you make to the U.S. Sentencing Commission to address the problem of mass incarceration in America?

Format of Paper:

Paragraphs 1–2 (less than a page): Introduce yourself as a U.S. judge and state why you are writing your proposal/recommendations and the materials you have used to arrive at your conclusions. Include a thesis statement.

Paragraphs 3–7 (2 pages): Identify 3 or 4 major differences between U.S. corrections and sentencing practices and those in Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway using your references and the documentary. 
Paragraphs 7–11 (2 pages): Describe the violent crime rates, incarceration, and recidivism rates in the U.S. versus Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. In the final paragraphs, give your recommendations to the U.S. Sentencing Commission about how to address the problem of mass incarceration in America.

Include a page of works cited and use APA in-text citation.

Determination of Final Grade

  • Class Participation      10%
  • Quizzes                             10%
  • Research Paper            20%
  • Midterm Exam             30%
  • Final Exam                     30%



Course Schedule

NOTE: The following topics in this course will be covered, but may be accomplished using a modified version of the schedule listed below.



Learning Objectives



Class Introductions




What Is Corrections?

Describe the growth of the U.S. corrections system, name the components of the corrections system, distinguish between the Pennsylvania and New York systems, understand the goals of punishment



The Punishment of Offenders

Explain the various types of sentences that judges hand down, differentiate between indeterminate and determinate sentences, discuss the growing recognition of wrongful convictions and how they happen




Describe the history and functions of jails, who is in jail and why, discuss the kinds of jails in the U.S., list the main issues facing jails today



Community Corrections: Probation and Intermediate Sanctions

Describe the history and development of probation, the types of intermediate sanctions, critically assess the future of probation and community corrections




Discuss the functions of probation, the purpose and format of the PSI, discuss probation conditions, define recidivism, discuss the revocation of probation




Discuss the goals of incarceration, understand how incarceration is organized, explain who is in prison, discuss the explanations for the increase in the incarceration rate, be familiar with prison overcrowding



Midterm Exam




The Prison Experience

Discuss the inmate code, explain differences in interpersonal relationships in men and women’s prisons, be familiar with issues surrounding the incarceration of women, understand the range of prison programs including prison industries and medical services and their importance to social order in prison



Prison Management

Be familiar with the principles used to organize the functioning of prisons, discuss the importance of prison governance, explain the different types of prison violence and the theories underlying violence in prison and breakdowns in social order



Prison Staffing

Be familiar with the various types of personnel in U.S. prisons and chain of command, explain the correction officer’s role, discuss the different job assignments of correction officers, discuss the legal restraints on use of force



Reentry into the Community

Understand the function and operations of parole supervision and parole release, be familiar with the origins of parole, understand the challenges of prisoner reentry and reintegration



Legal Issues and the Death Penalty

Discuss the legal rights of prisoners, describe key U.S. Supreme Court rulings concerning correctional law, know the effect of the PLRA on prisoner litigation and alternatives to litigation, discuss case law as related to the death penalty and current controversies surrounding the death penalty



Special Populations and Juvenile Corrections

Understand the problems associated with confining elderly inmates, long-term inmates, HIV/AIDS-infected inmates, mentally ill inmates, and juveniles



The Future of Corrections

Understand the key problems in contemporary corrections and state level reform efforts to tackle the problem of mass incarceration, understand what good leadership means for corrections, describe the impact of politics on the U.S. correctional system

Research Paper Due


Final Exam




by Jennifer Wynn