Prisons are social and political institutions governed by local, state and national policies. They have a profound influence on American society, especially on our political community. They amplify inequality and disadvantage. The massive number of people imprisoned in the United States speaks volumes about our policy priorities and about our democracy. How did things get this way? How did we end up being the nation that incarcerates more of its population than virtually any other? What policy processes directly and indirectly account for this? What explains the change that we now appear to be experiencing? What is the future of the U.S. prison system? What is the future of our democracy? This course will tackle these and other pressing questions. Students will gain an empirically grounded and theoretically far-reaching understanding of one of the most fundamental and transformative institutions in America.