Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich is teaching a new course next semester built around the current season of the popular Serial podcast. Season 3 focuses on stories from the Cleveland criminal justice system, and Professor Witmer-Rich recognized that the podcast could serve as an excellent teaching tool, helping students to examine how the criminal justice system actually functions. The course—titled “Understanding and Reforming the Criminal Justice Process”—will use the podcast episodes to explore issues such as the power of prosecutors, the costs and fees of the criminal justice process, the distrust between police and some urban communities, accountability for police misconduct, and the voice of victims in the criminal justice system.
Professor Witmer-Rich’s course has caught the attention of state and national media outlets. It was recently featured on Law.com’s “Ahead of the Curve” series, which focuses on notable innovations in legal education. The course has also been highlighted on public radio programs and newspapers around the state, as well as Cleveland’s News Channel 5.
Each week students will listen to one episode of the podcast and read additional materials such as the 2014 Department of Justice Report on the Cleveland Division of Police. The course will feature regular guest speakers—including some of the lawyers and judges featured on the podcast. For their main project in the course, each student will complete a Criminal Justice Reform project that analyzes one of the problems highlighted on the show and proposes a solution. The course begins in January.