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Common Experience Theme

2017-18 Common Experience Theme

Inside the U.S. Supreme Court
Inside the United States Supreme Court. Photo by Phil Roeder, Wikimedia Commons.

The Search for Justice:
Our Response to Crime in the 21st Century

2016-2017 Common Experience Theme Chairs

» Shannon M. FitzPatrick, J.D.
» Nathan W. Pino, Ph.D.
» Joseph Baar Topinka, M.B.A., J.D.


Theme Overview

Crime and criminal justice are major civil rights issues of our time: the rights of victims, criminal defendants, prisoners, those in police custody, and ex-felons are considered to be under attack by different segments of society for various reasons. In addition, tensions exist around the criminalization of marginalized groups (including women, immigrants, those in the LGBTQIA communities, and so forth), the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, mass incarceration, and mass governmental surveillance. Central to this topic is the idea of fairness, which will engage our students in thoughtful discussions that could have a lifetime impact.

Through gaining a stronger comprehension of concepts of justice and crime, students will gain a greater appreciation of a core principle of their democratic system as it pertains to their own fields, as well as to their participation in the process of governance (both as citizens and future leaders). This theme helps students understand some of the more serious repercussions of decisions made by law enforcement, courts, parole boards, and even our elected representatives for both offenders and victims.

Texas, Crime, and Criminal Justice:
Criminal justice issues in Texas are central to national and international debates about crime. Texas continues to lead the nation in incarceration, and the state has consistently had the most active death row in the country. Justice and fairness in Texas can be blurred with the popular election of judges connected to political parties, a practice which has been challenged at the national level as inserting politics into an arena that desperately needs to be unbiased. Mass incarceration and lengthier prison sentences have led to increases in elderly prisoners, and low-income defendants can expect only a fraction of the resources afforded to police investigations and prosecutors.

Crime, Justice, and Inequality:
The criminal justice system reflects and actively maintains social and economic inequality. Members of marginalized groups are far more likely to be criminalized and become victims of hate crimes, while white-collar and corporate offenders are more easily able to escape justice. Governmental crimes, corruption, genocide, police torture, and war crimes are often omitted from discussions of criminal justice. Furthermore, the privatization of criminal justice institutions in policing, security, jails, and probation services leads to the profit motive guiding criminal justice policy.

Victims and Self-Defense:
The topics of crime and justice cannot be addressed without addressing the victims of crime and the perceived need for safety and security. There are many questions to consider. What is meant by the term "victim’s rights," and what policies, practices, and resources are available to victims of various crimes? If the government is seen as unable to protect people from victimization, citizens may feel compelled to defend themselves or engage in vigilantism. How are people afraid of criminal victimization attempting to protect themselves? How has Texas State University balanced the various concerns of students, faculty, and staff regarding campus carry with the requirements of the law? How do we as a state support law enforcement while still pushing for greater accountability?