WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR GENERAL NON-FICTON
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEWS' 10 BEST BOOKS
LONG-LISTED FOR THE THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
FINALIST, CURRENT INTEREST CATEGORY, LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZES
Former public defender James Forman, Jr. is a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of color. In Locking Up Our Own, he seeks to understand the war on crime that began in the 1970s and why it was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers.
Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Many prominent black officials, including Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness—and thus embraced tough-on-crime measures, including longer sentences and aggressive police tactics. In the face of skyrocketing murder rates and the proliferation of open-air drug markets, they believed they had no choice. But the policies they adopted would have devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighborhoods.
A former D.C. public defender, Forman tells riveting stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims. He writes with compassion about individuals trapped in terrible dilemmas—from the men and women he represented in court to officials struggling to respond to a public safety emergency. Locking Up Our Own enriches our understanding of why our society became so punitive and offers important lessons to anyone concerned about the future of race and the criminal justice system in this country.
"Locking Up Our Own is an engaging, insightful, and provocative reexamination of over-incarceration in the black community. James Forman Jr. carefully exposes the complexities of crime, criminal justice, and race. What he illuminates should not be ignored." -Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative
"A beautiful book, written so well, that gives us the origins and consequences of where we are . . . I can see why [the Pulitzer prize] was awarded." -Trevor Noah, The Daily Show
"Timely . . . A masterly account of how a generation of black elected officials wrestled with recurring crises of violence and drug use in the nation's capital . . . A big deal and a major breakthrough . . . Forman's novel claim is this: What most explains the punitive turn in black America is not a repudiation of civil rights activism, as some have argued, but an embrace of it . . . " —Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The New York Times Book Review
"Superb and shattering . . . 'How did a majority black jurisdiction end up incarcerating so many of its own?' This is the exceptionally delicate question that [Forman] tries to answer, with exemplary nuance, over the course of his book. His approach is compassionate . . . The effect, for the reader, is devastating." —Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
"Remarkable . . . Forman's beautifully written narrative, enriched by firsthand knowledge of the cops and courts, neither condemns black leaders in hindsight nor exonerates the white-dominated institutions . . . He adds historical nuance to the story of 'mass incarceration' told in . . . The New Jim Crow." —Charles Lane, The Washington Post
"Forman’s book is brave, offering a nuanced examination of how black communities and their elected representatives wrestled with rising violence and drug addiction; how they came to embrace a war on drugs and aggressive policing tactics years before Reagan’s war or the advent of broken windows policing; and how they came to eventually regret the surveillance, forfeiture, and criminal records they helped create . . . Forman’s book is a compelling example of how to do local history . . . [A] richly detailed account . . . Incredibly powerful and well-researched . . . Forman is masterful." —Vesla M. Weaver, The Boston Review
"Surprising . . . [Forman's] moving, nuanced, and candid account challenges another aspect of the 'New Jim Crow' thesis. He shows that some of the most ardent proponents of tough·on-crime policies in the era that brought us mass incarceration were black politicians and community leaders—many of whom were veterans of the civil rights movement . . . The correctives offered by Forman . . . have consequences not only for how we understand mass incarceration, but for how we go about fixing it." —David Cole, The New York Review of Books
About the Author:
James Forman, Jr. is a professor of law at Yale Law School. He has written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, numerous law reviews, and other publications. A former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, he spent six years as a public defender in Washington, D.C., where he cofounded the Maya Angelou Public Charter School. He is the author of Locking Up Our Own.