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Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
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Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  2,075 ratings  ·  321 reviews
In recent years, America’s criminal justice system has become the subject of an increasingly urgent debate. Critics have assailed the rise of mass incarceration, emphasizing its disproportionate impact on people of color. As James Forman, Jr., points out, however, the war on crime that began in the 1970s was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban ...more
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Published April 18th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Aolund While not covered explicitly, Forman demonstrates how policing of youth of color begins incredibly early. He also usefully discusses how the lack of…moreWhile not covered explicitly, Forman demonstrates how policing of youth of color begins incredibly early. He also usefully discusses how the lack of safe educational spaces (both in and outside of school) contributes to high levels of arrests and often incarceration for youth of color. (less)

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Average rating 4.37  · 
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 ·  2,075 ratings  ·  321 reviews

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jv poore
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Inundated with information in the best possible way, I feel like I took an entire class rather than simply reading one book.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a really important book that complicates the dominant narrative on crime espoused in books like the new jim crow and others. It adds more nuance and it shows how the black community participated in raising the stakes for crimes. Forman is a public defender in DC and son of the SNCC Forman. He knows what he's talking about, his history is fascinating, and the stories are heartbreaking. Even if you think you know everything about this issue, don't skip this one.
Benjamin Lettuce Treuhaft
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book about policy yes. BUT at the end it makes you cry.
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction recently and was penned by James Forman Jr, a long time public defender in Washington DC and Yale Law School Professor.

I liked the messaging and the detail on some of the history of African Americans living in DC and the ongoing challenges going back to 1919 was quite good. The section on class distinction specifically African American cops in DC and how some were the most brutal to the poorest African-American suspects was well writte
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Using Washington D.C. as foundation, Mr. Forman, Jr. takes a look at how, many small events conspired to land the Nation to where it sits today as the greatest jailer in the world. Mass incarceration didn't just happen, it built slowly but steadily and many Black politicians, civic and religious leaders bear some responsibility. He details with solid research how Black communities consistently called for tougher sentencing laws, not just in D.C. but in Black communities all across the land. The ...more
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books on criminal justice and the root causes of mass incarceration that I have read. I especially appreciated the history of city politics and local black elected officials and law enforcement in Atlanta and D.C. Most of the books and studies on mass incarceration focus on everything and everyone but the role that our own community and leaders played while doing their best to save the community from rampant crime. Incredibly eye opening and captivating read, and very accessible ...more
Adofo Minka
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a public defender working in the criminal punishment system in Hinds County, Mississippi, a county that is well over 70% black,, I found Professor Foreman's book to be long overdue, yet timely. Where many authors look at the current state of our criminal punishment system in the larger context of systematic racism, Foreman's work digs deeper and gives readers an up close look at class dynamics and how they have played out in cities where black elected and appointed officials were tasked with ...more
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Locking Up Our Own provides a detailed look at how mass incarceration and the war on drugs and guns came to disproportionately affect people of color. These policies often had the support of African American leaders and community, and over time, they slowly contributed to making America the most locked-up country in the world. Many people are thrown in jail for minor infractions, which then robs them of the chance to get good educations and have job opportunities.

What's amazing about th
Apr 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book! I was reading on my iPad and I tend to read very slowly that way... but I would find time for this book. Engaging, understandably infuriating, and with a tone I found passionate but unbiased, I learned how increased availability of drugs like heroin and crack in the '70s and '80s, coupled with the increased use of handguns and the rising prevalence of African-American police forces, served to influence laws and practices that led directly to the unbelievable rates of incarcera ...more
Traci at The Stacks
This is a pretty straightforward book. Not particularly artful in style. It brings up a lot of questions of blame in the Black community around incarceration, singling out Black leaders. It’s not wrong I just question the narrowness of the subject and if it’s fair to blame these folks for a bigger national and anti-Black problem. Not sure why it won the Pulitzer.
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Finished: 18.04.2018
Genre: non-fiction
Rating: A

Perspective: As a lawyer who started his career as a public defender in Washington D.C., Forman retains a pro-African American perspective for the entirety of the book.
Goal: His goal is an honest retelling of the struggles the black man is up against:
arrests for minor marijuana infractions, opiate crisis getting worse particularly among blacks, racial profiling and guns. "From Wyatt Earp to the Godfather...USA misleads their young people who think they can secure the/>/>
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing

“What was going on: How did a majority-black jurisdiction end up incarcerating so many of its 0wn?” (Kindle Location 127)

James Forman, Jr.’s book, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, is one of the most compelling, and most readable pieces of non-fiction I’ve read. It is a game (and a perspective) changer. Mr. Forman’s take on ‘warrior’ and ‘pretext’ policing, alone, is more than worth the price of admission.

I readily agree with the jacket-blurb o/>“What
Sarah Jaffe
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: werk
A political history told in compelling narrative and framed with Forman's own experiences as a public defender...a complicated, necessary book that is also a pleasure to read (and made me cry real tears).
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This has to be one of the most profound books I've ever read. Foreman's premise tackles one of the most common detracting arguments we hear when we discuss racism in the criminal justice system today: But the arresting officer/jury/judge/other authority figure is black! How can this be an instance of racism, then? Admittedly, I would always be a bit stumped at this question before proceeding to cite the prevalence of internalized racism, the power dynamics of structures vs. those of the individuals, ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great book about the root of mass incarceration. The author points his finger to religious leaders in African American communities and a nearsighted vision that did not foresee the pervasiveness of crack in their neighborhoods.
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The statistics on the US prison system is staggering. A quarter of the world’s prison population is in the US, even though we account for only 5% of the world’s population. One in three young black men is under criminal justice supervision. Nationwide, African-Americans are five times more likely to be in prison than whites. In some states, it is ten times as likely as whites. Though only 13% of the population, African-Americans comprise 40% of the prison population. How did we get here, fifty y ...more
Joseph Stieb
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, excellent, excellent. This book deserves a place alongside the New Jim Crow, Rise of the Warrior Cop, The Color of Law, and Ghettoside in our understanding of race and criminal justice in the drug war era. Forman is a public defender in DC with extensive experience defending poor, mostly African American defendants. Here are some of the big insights he brings to bear:

The main goal of the book is to complement the NJC narrative of race, policing, and criminal justice by sho
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This superb book by James Forman, Jr., a professor at Yale Law School, former public defender in the District of Columbia, and son of the late civil rights activitist and SNCC leader James Forman, picks up after Michelle Alexander's influential book The New Jim Crow in its analysis of the mass incarceration of and long prison sentences meted out to poor African Americans as a result of the War on Drugs that began in the 1980s. Forman demonstrates that these harsh policies, which have decimated indi ...more
Vannessa Anderson
Locking Up Our Own Crime & Punishment in Black America is a great read on the imprisonment of Black America. Author Forman explains how when the Black community takes one step forward there is always the white supremacist politicians and white supremacist law enforcement and the white supremacist wealthy pushing them many steps backward. Author Forman did a great job in explaining how locking up our own started to how it never stopped.

I was very impressed over how author Forman Jr. feared no retri
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Focusing on DC, where Forman lived and worked for a number of years, Forman tells a story that applies in many places in the US: the reasons that African-Americans supported, at least initially, harsh-on-crime policies that produced the New Jim Crow, exploding prison populations and ensuring that huge numbers of young African-Americans were involuntarily involved in the criminal justice system. Forman argues: (1) The pioneers who joined and rose in the police were often looking for good jobs, no ...more
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
I learned so much from this book. It really challenged my understanding of mandatory minimums and the war on crime. At its best, it is a deep dive into the history as related by old newspaper coverage and interviews, coupled with the authors own experiences as a public defender. I loved the personal anecdotes he related. That's when the book really had its most impact on me.

At times, though, the book felt too opinionated. Some of the language he chose definitely showed me what he bel
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
IQ "When we ask ourselves how America became the world's greatest jailer it is natural to focus on bright, shiny objects: national campaigns, federal legislation, executive orders from the Oval Office. But we should train our eyes, also, on more mundane decisions and directives, many of which took place on the local level. Which agency director did a public official enlist in response to citizen complaints about used syringes in back alleys? Such small choices, made daily, over time, in every co ...more
Orion Fisher
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is astounding, it gives so much information about how black lives were affected in the late 20th century. James Forman shares his opinion on nearly every point he talks about but does it after providing facts and other points of view of police officers, black newspapers, and the general community. This book is very well written and a great detailed account of the events in the past that aren’t viewed nearly as bad as many other events, but clearly is, just looking at the statistics.
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
I honestly thought this book was quite excellent. I learned a ton about how more and more punitive punishments for drug and other crimes were developed piecemeal by many claiming (and actually believing) to work on behalf of the interests of the black community. This is a must read for all of us who advocate that we should have more black and brown elective representatives. It is clear that this simply won't save us. Or even make things (not just mass incarceration) better.

My biggest
A well written and important read about how laws come to be and effect people. At times, I found myself wondering why Forman Jr did not mention gender more, but this is a really important read.
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Cogent, nuanced, and engaging policy history of how so many of the most destructive and counter-productive War on Drugs initiatives came to be. More topics should receive this treatment.
Mark Mortensen
Nov 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: americana, politics
The author documents the severity of guns, drugs and back on black violence within Washington D.C. I wish Forman had written the book in chronological order to follow a pattern, but too often he switched from present day back to the 50’s then to the 80’s then back to the 70’s and jumped to the 90’s. He is quick to state the problem stems from conservative U.S. Presidents and D.C. police. I don’t buy it. Among the finger pointing and his search for accountability there is no mention of children b ...more
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really excellent book. You can tell that Forman is a good professor because he manages to be extremely informative about history and justice, while at the same time keeping the reader hooked in the story. There were places where I felt like he went into more detail than I needed, for example about the shifts of personnel and policies in individual police departments, but it was no big deal to skim over those parts. Overall, I felt like a more informed person after reading this book, an ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poc-author, favorites
Watch me talk about the book in my October wrap up:
Karen Ashmore
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
An eye-opening account of how we evolved to a war on drugs that ends up targeting poor, black neighborhoods. Imagine a world where justice requires accountability but not vengeance. You can also learn some handy practical tips like: If you are pulled over by the cops, they will imply they have the right to search you car. They don't. Always deny consent to a search.
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James Forman Jr. is one of the nation’s leading authorities on race, education, and the criminal justice system, and a tireless advocate for young people who others have written off.
Forman attended Yale Law School, and after he graduated, worked as a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court. After clerkin
“When we ask ourselves how America became the world’s greatest jailer, it is natural to focus on bright, shiny objects: national campaigns, federal legislation, executive orders from the Oval Office. But we should train our eyes, also, on more mundane decisions and directives, many of which took place on the local level. Which agency director did a public official enlist in response to citizen complaints about used syringes in back alleys? Such small choices, made daily, over time, in every corner of our nation, are the bricks that built our prison nation.” 3 likes
“As the tough-on-crime movement gathered force, those who had been arrested or convicted rarely participated in debates over criminal justice policy, in D.C. or nationally. They rarely told their stories. And their invisibility helps explain why our criminal justice system became so punitive.” 1 likes
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