A recent discussion in the Facebook group “Teaching with a Sociological Lens” (which is a fantastic group that I highly recommend!) reminded me of how much I love to use podcast episodes in place of or alongside reading assignments when I teach criminal justice topics. Actually, podcasts are just one of many different things that I like to pair with textbook chapters or journal articles – I also like to assign documentary films, newspaper articles, other investigative journalism, websites and web-based games, etc.
I enjoy using podcasts because they are usually much more entertaining and engaging than straight textbook or journal reading assignments. They help students learn by presenting information in a different format and by reinforcing the ideas that we discuss in the course. Be careful not to justify your use of podcasts by leaning on the “learning styles” myth (e.g. ‘visual learners,’ ‘auditory learners’) – instead, you are advancing multisensory learning by combining different ways of taking in information. You can extend this approach even further by using visual aids in class, like diagrams or encouraging students to “sketchnote” (visual notetaking) their reading assignments and lecture notes.
Over the last couple of semesters I have amassed an impressive collection of podcasts and individual podcast episodes that I have used or would like to use in class someday. I’m linking them below as a resource for others and, honestly, as a reminder to myself. There are undoubtedly many, many more than I have listed here – if you know of some I’ve missed, please comment so that I can add them to this post!
Warning: I encourage critical listening and so should you. Podcasts are interesting and entertaining, but are not flawless. Encourage your students to identify the hosts and interviewees and assess their credentials. In the classroom, push back on students’ uncritical acceptance of information – pair podcasts with peer-reviewed research to show which ideas are evidence-based and which are opinion or speculation. Use podcasts as an opportunity to teach media literacy and critical thinking skills alongside criminal justice content.
Justice-related Podcasts (multiple episodes)
Ear Hustle: “Ear Hustle brings you the stories of life inside prison, shared and produced by those living it. The podcast is a partnership between Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, and Nigel Poor, a Bay Area artist. The team works in San Quentin’s media lab to produce stories that are sometimes difficult, often funny and always honest, offering a nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.”
Unprisoned: Like Ear Hustle, Unprisoned shares the stories of current and formerly imprisoned people, this time from Louisiana, the world’s prison capital. “Unprisoned shares stories to incite conversation about the ways mass incarceration affects families, communities and notions of justice. What has Louisiana done to become the incarceration capital of the world? Is our criminal justice system making us safer? How are we all passively or actively supporting the current system? What do we want for our future? We listen hard to the ways our criminal justice system engenders financial, legal and personal hardships for families, neighborhoods and larger communities, and how incarceration perpetuates cycles of poverty and violence. We focus in particular on how children — often from a very young age — are caught in the system of correctional control with little hope of ever escaping it, a cultural contradiction that at once elevates youth as exceptional and vulnerable while simultaneously criminalizing them at an alarming rate.”
Criminal (In)Justice: “Criminal Injustice discusses the always current, sometimes disturbing, frequently confusing and often shocking aspects of the American criminal justice system. Weekly episodes examine issues like police body cameras, racial biases, use of force and incarceration through wide-ranging interviews with national figures in the know. It’s not a lecture hall, and you don’t need a law degree to keep up.” This podcast is hosted by David A. Harris, a distinguished faculty scholar and professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, teaching courses in criminal law and criminal procedure.
Criminal: From a Vulture review, “”Criminal” is a true-crime podcast that understands crime as something sociological, historical, even anthropological — that crime is a function of people, time, and place. Each episode tells the story of a crime as a sort of fable, even if the moral lesson at the center seems impossible, unclear, or out of reach. With incredible sound design, marvelous writing, and a boldness in the way it makes its choices, there are fewer shows that feel more alive.” Due to the ‘fable’-like telling of the stories, these episodes may be valuable for those teaching about narrative criminology.
100:1: The Crack Legacy: This new podcast from Audible is available at no extra cost for subscribes to Audible or Amazon Prime. The website states “Our latest documentary series exposes the link between punitive drug laws drawn up during the 80’s war on crack cocaine and contemporary police violence that disproportionately affects black Americans.” This would likely be an amazing resource for anyone teaching about race, crime, drugs, and policy.
Life of the Law: This sociolegal podcast series offers more than 100 episodes exploring “people and their relationship with the law.” They have many different types of episodes, from in-studio discussions of investigative journalism projects, “live law stories” interviews with practitioners, educators, students, and others, and live storytelling events. A quick glance reveals episodes on civil rights and incarceration, the heroin epidemic, and immigration law.
Criminal Justice Research Podcasts from the National Institute of Justice: Did you know that the NIJ had a podcast series? I didn’t. The episodes are available through iTunes and, while they are surely not quite as glitzy and entertaining as some of the other podcasts I have listed here, it’s hard to beat the NIJ as a source of information on US criminal justice research and technology. Episodes feature such titles as “Building Bridges Between Researchers and Practitioners,” “The Importance of Research on Race, Crime and Punishment,” and “State Responses to Mass Incarceration.” The episodes vary in length, anywhere from 4 minutes to over an hour, so there may be opportunities to assign small sections of the lengthier episodes. This podcast looks useful for the teacher-scholar as well as the student!
Radiolab Presents: More Perfect: “How does an elite group of nine people shape everything from marriage and money, to safety and sex for an entire nation? Radiolab’s first ever spin-off series, More Perfect, dives into the rarefied world of the Supreme Court to explain how cases deliberated inside hallowed halls affect lives far away from the bench.”
In the Dark (Season 1): “Child abductions are rare crimes. And they’re typically solved. For 27 years, the investigation into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota yielded no answers. In the most comprehensive reporting on this case, APM Reports and reporter Madeleine Baran reveal how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions in the country and how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, led to the nation’s sex-offender registries and raise questions about crime-solving effectiveness and accountability.”
Actual Innocence: “Actual innocence is a podcast that tells the story of people who served time for crimes they did not commit. Each episode will introduce an exonerated person and the story of how the criminal justice system failed them. Giving a voice to those who were once robbed of their liberty brings us closer to reform in the justice system… and closer to freedom and justice for the wrongly accused.”
Criminal Justice Episodes of General Podcasts
Talk of the Nation
- “State & Youth, Part II: Girls and Juvenile Justice”, featuring Meda Chesney-Lind.
- “The Role of the Attorney General Throughout History”
All Things Considered
- “To Reduce Gun Violence, Potential Offenders Offered Support And Cash” – I use this when teaching theory (e.g. strain) and/or in methods class to ask students how they would evaluate such a program.
- “When a Parent Goes to Prison, a Child Also Pays a Price”
- “‘Restorative Justice’ A New Approach to Discipline in School” – a pair of episodes on harm circles in schools.
This American Life
- “The Problem We All Live With” – amazing story of school segregation/desegration. This is the episode that got me into listening to podcasts and using them in my classes. Useful for any class on race, crime, juvenile delinquency and justice, place and crime… the list goes on.
- “Crime Scene”
- “The Allure of Crime”
- “Perfect Evidence” (on DNA convictions, false confessions, and eyewitness testimony)
- “Except For That One Thing: Run On Sentence” – this part of the episode talks about Mike Anderson, who, due to a clerical error, never served a 13-year sentence for robbery. Interesting story for thinking about the justifications and goals of punishment.
- “Very Tough Love” – “A drug court program that we believe is run differently from every other drug court in the country, doing some things that are contrary to the very philosophy of drug court. The result? People with offenses that would get minimal or no sentences elsewhere sometimes end up in the system five to ten years.” Discretion in the court system.
Tell Me More
- “Cory Booker Wants to Help Ex-Offenders Be Economically Productive” – for criminal justice reform, theory, and methods (evaluation)
- “Should Tweens Be Prosecuted As Adults?”
- “For Scores of U.S. Children, One Parent Lives Behind Bars”
- “A Year After Trayvon-Zimmerman Verdict, What’s Changed?” – panel discussion
- “Juvenile Incarceration Rates Are Down; Racial Disparities Rise”
- “An Alternative to Suspension and Expulsion: ‘Circle Up!'”
- “Episode 50: Broken Windows” – “Today, we explore how ideas sometimes get away from those who invented them… and then are taken to places that were never intended.”
- “The ‘Thumbprint Of The Culture’: Implicit Bias And Police Shootings”
- “When Helping Hurts” for research methods (evaluation).
- “How to Fix a Broken High-Schooler, in Four Easy Steps” – feel free to push back on the terms “fix” and “broken”
- “Preventing Crime for Pennies on the Dollar”
- “Making Sex Offenders Pay – and Pay and Pay and Pay”
- “What’s More Dangerous: Marijuana or Alcohol?” – good for drug policy or law and society classes
Reveal, by the Center for Investigative Reporting
- “Trial and Terror,” on tracking domestic terrorism incidents
- “The Kids Aren’t All Right,” on sexual violence in schools
- “What Cops Aren’t Learning,” on police training
- “If You Can’t Afford a Lawyer” on the crisis in public defense funding
Intelligence Squared Debates: