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CJ 480 California Corrections System

Prerequisites: Upper division standing, CJ 300, or consent of instructor.

Description: Development of California's correctional system, among the ten largest in the world. Critical junctures, including the introduction of the convict labor system, good time, progressive penology, and the prison building boom.

Units: 3

Instructor:   Daniel Macallair

Course Description

This course will cover the history and development of the worlds eight largest correctional system. Topics examined will include the early history of California’s correctional system, including the impact of the gold rush and the establishment of San Quentin and Folsom State prisons in the mid 1800s. The course will explore the state’s first convict labor system and the introduction of good time in 1864 as an early form of parole. The course will further explore the development of progressive penology pioneered in California during the early and mid 20th century before giving way to the conservative backlash in the last quarter of the 20th century. The course will take a close look at the political environment that led to the prison boom of the 1980s and 1990s including a critical assessment of the interest groups that propelled this movement. Finally, the class will analyze the politics of incarceration in the contemporary political culture and the implications for future corrections policy.

Download Course Outline here.

Course Format

The primary instructional method is lecture and discussion. Lectures and discussions are supplemented with videos and guest lectures. Students are expected to read and consider assigned readings prior to each class. Students are strongly encouraged to express their views.

Required Reading

The following are required class readings:

  • Bookspan. A Germ of Goodness: The California State Prison System, 1851-1944
  • Irwin, John. The Warehouse Prison and the New Dangerous Class
  • Christine Gardiner and Pamela Fiber-Ostrow. California's Criminal Justice System (State-Specific Criminal Justice)
  • Abramsky, Sasha. Sacramento’s K-Street Lobbyists: The criminal justice inner circle.

Schedule of Readings

The last section of this syllabus contains the reading assignments and topics by date. Please read the assigned materials prior to the class. Download reading list here.


Grades are based on three objective exams that must be taken on the day they are administered. Failure to take an exam on the scheduled day will result in an F grade.

Download extra credit writing assignment here.

Office Hours

Instructor office hours are detailed in the course outline.  Additional times can be arranged by appointment.


1. Development of the penitentiary system 2. Development of San Quentin 3. The Building of Folsom… Continue

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