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Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  2,937 ratings  ·  423 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 s…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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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.
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Forman looks at the story behind the laws and practices that resulted in America’s mass incarceration of African Americans. He focuses on black led city governments, police and activist organizations which were responding to the rapid rise in street drugs and accompanying violence beginning in the late 1960s. Black leaders supported the harsh sentences and invasive searches that were implemented from the 1970s to the 1990s. Although white led jurisdictions and the federal government were also ad ...more
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 written and insigh
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
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
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
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very important accompaniment for The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Especially in the current climate (2020) of people trying to understand how to stop incidents like the George Floyd killing when one of the four policemen was black. The mass incarceration system is not a simple story that can be explained entirely by white supremacy. Its establishment was, according to this book, enthusiastically demanded by black leaders. We need to rethink our entire ...more
I finished this book 2 weeks ago, but I have put off reviewing it because... well, I guess because there was SO MUCH information in this book that reviewing it was a little daunting. I don't know how to write this review. On the surface, this is a book about mass incarceration, and how black people are imprisoned at much higher rates, but this is called "Locking Up Our Own", not "Locking Them Up" so this book looks at the reasons and ways that black people have affected policies that increase th ...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 this book i
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
Bonnie G.
I was a criminology major in college, later a lawyer. The criminilization of blackness is something I have been studying formally and informally since the early 80s. This book has a different POV than any I have read. I think all rational people can agree that in the US white people have rigged the system to keep those with more melanin down, and that the justice system has been the most efficient and devastating tool in that arsenal. This book though goes a bit farther and looks at the ways Afr ...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.
Isabel • The Crime Bookshelf
I read this for my Criminal Punishment class (not for fun) so I won’t be rating it, but I’m still counting it towards by Goodreads goal 🤓
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 wh
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 of another of my
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).
I wrote a big review of this when I first finished it. I was pretty proud of it; it said nearly all the things I wanted to say about this book. And then Goodreads ate it, even after introducing an auto-save feature that was supposed to make sure that couldn't happen. I would have written it in Word if I knew it wasn't going to work. Anyway, all that to say this book was really smart and good and I refuse to write another review of it so I DECLARE REVIEW AMNESTY.
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 individu ...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 re
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 showing that Af
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 ...more
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 believes - but
Ron Bronson
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it
A deeper dive into the epidemic of the 70s/80s and 90s view of crime and punishment by black leaders in black communities who in many cases advocated the sorts of zero tolerance policies that led to mass incarceration that we still find ourselves plagued with to this day. Forman asks good questions about reconsidering what things might have been different had the approaches considered were more rehabilitative and goes deep into the history during Jim Crow of policing that still stains many force ...more
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
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.
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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 clerking, he

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