Doing Justice in Philadelphia and Beyond, 1925 – 2025: Déjà vu all over again

CLICK HERE for General Course Outline and materials


How is justice achieved?

This interdisciplinary, introductory course examines how justice agencies work.

This course focuses on a few key criminal justice events between 1925 and 2025. It uses a broad sociolegal framework to understand the pressures operating on justice agencies.
Learn about Philadelphia. Most of the events discussed in class took place in Philadelphia, or nearby.  You will read newspaper articles and sections of the first scientific commission to study crime and law enforcement in the U.S.


Become skilled in interpreting basic social science data like Census tables and maps, and crime maps

Ponder some of the most important questions about U.S. society: Why is "equal justice" so hard to achieve? Why is reform so difficult? Where did the rise in the "law and order" agenda come from? What are the implications of current and ongoing changes?

And maybe most important of all: where is all this going?

IMAGES, top to bottom, going left to right in each row: TOP ROW: Philadelphia skyline. Bruce Lancaster in Brute Force (1947) one of the first films to look realistically at violence and gangs inside prisons, and how it was linked to the pressures on the prison system, and the makeup of the guards and the inmates.  SECOND ROW: speedboat purchased by Philadelphia Police Department in 1920s to chase bootleggers on the Delaware River. Poster from  Dead End (1937) which took a hard look at the connection between poverty, pre-teen violence, and economic inequality. THIRD ROW. In 1985 the Philadelphia Police Department, in a standoff with a radical movement, MOVE, dropped a bomb on a house on Osage Avenue and the neighborhood burned. FBI map of crime hot spots in North Philadelphia in the late 1990s. FOURTH ROW. Futuristic skyline. Philadelphia street corner in the 1930s. BOTTOM ROW: empty jury box. Distribution of percent African-American population in Philadelphia census tracts in 1990. Smedley Butler, a high ranking and much decorated officer in the  U.S. Marine Corps, brought in as Director of Public Safety in 1924 to enforce Prohibition in Philadelphia.

For more details contact Ralph Taylor: 215.204.7169