This course explores the role of prisons in U.S. culture, with an emphasis on how various cultural texts re-imagine the concepts and practices of criminalization and punishment. Over the past twenty years critical prison studies has become a major research area in American Studies. Work by scholars in geography, political science, history, anthropology and literature has examined the changing use of prisons to address various social problems, showing how prisons have in fact consistently exacerbated the social problems they were alleged to resolve. At the same time, critical prison studies scholarship has expanded the field of inquiry beyond the prisons themselves. Interdisciplinary scholarship on the prison industrial complex, the carceral state, administrative violence, moral panics, and processes of criminalization reveal extended networks of punishment that far exceed the boundaries of any specific institutional walls. This course will pursue readings in critical prison studies alongside sample cultural texts that push the boundaries of scholarship in this area. Throughout our reading we will ask what constitutes knowledge in relation to various carceral and disciplinary modes and how creative practices and cultural studies frameworks participate in shaping a critical episteme.