Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

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WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR GENERAL NON-FICTON
ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEWS’ 10 BEST BOOKS
LONG-LISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
FINALIST, CURRENT INTEREST CATEGORY, LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZES

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

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.

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  1. Peter Loeb

    An excellent written book on a problem usually seen with different eyesand patronizing perspectives. Foreman’s presentation is so good Ishared it with others who were too young to have been aware of Foreman’sanalyses.

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  2. Janet J. Stebbins

    A must-read! Beautifully written…horrifyingly accurate.

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  3. bruceahubbard

    This is an excellent book. I also met Mr. Forman during his presentation about the book at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn. The work that he is doing with his students at Yale Law School surrounding incarceration and with prisoners is groundbreaking.

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  4. Emmanuel A

    laid our the history of the criminal justice system and gives recommendations of how to reform the system. Very good read.

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  5. Amazon Customer

    Truly eye opening. A great read. Would highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about the history of the criminal justice system and how we got to the current situation. As someone who is new to the discussions surrounding the criminal justice system I found it incredibly helpful to read this book which was steeped in research.

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  6. Tamara Bower

    Very absorbing look at the justice system.

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  7. Amazon Customer

    Should be required reading for all schools!

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  8. Jeannette Grauer

    Brilliant

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  9. muddyboy1

    This is a thought provoking study about why there is such a such a high percentage of Blacks in various penal institutions across our country. What is so interesting here is that decisions and the impetus for this are black people themselves that have driven this phenomena. A majority favored stricter marijuana laws, mandatory sentences and police stopping drivers for minor infractions (tail lights) to search for guns but then arresting them for unrelated crimes. (marijuana possession) Also, he argues that black citizens have been against gun control because they fear whitr society and home invasion. Justly deserves all its plaudits.

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  10. Mary G. Dabbs

    This is a beautifully written and thoroughly documented account of how good intentions, unanticipated consequences, and a relentless search for simple answers to complex problems have generated our “get tough on crime” laws, which have failed dismally, but nevertheless persisted. Recent small steps toward moderating these laws are currently under attack, which makes this book important and timely.

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  11. Eric Schwartzman

    This book explains why justice is about accountability, not vengeance and why advancing civil rights relies on criminal justice reform. Fascinating albeit chilling profile on how racism and prejudice have negatively impacted African Americans more than whites and why using prisons to deal with public health issues like addiction and economic issues like racism only exacerbate the problem. Eye opening read. I saw the movie Sorry To Bother You while I was reading this book and felt like I understood it’s satirical wit much better.

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  12. Mary Whisner

    Illustrated with anecdotes from his work as a public defender in DC as well as news coverage and DC Council hearings, this book traces the decisions that led to vigorous enforcement of drug laws and long sentences for their violation. If we are to undo mass incarceration, it’s important to understand how we got here.

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  13. Paul

    Very eye opening great history

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  14. Amazon Customer

    This is a must read for correctional leaders and our nation’s judges! Well done Mr. Foreman.

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  15. William Carrington

    This is the best book about how we have came to have so many young black men in jail and prison. The statistics are familiar but shocking – to take one as an example, roughly 30% of young black men that are high school dropouts are *currently* in jail or prison. That’s a stunning failure for those men, of course, but it’s a failure for the rest of our society as well. Many analysts point to white racism or the war on drugs as the causes of that incarceration, and they’re of course not totally wrong. But Forman’s contribution is to point out incompleteness of that narrative, as the incarceration boom had complicated origins.There are two of those additional factors that Forman analyzes with unique skill and detail. The first is the get-tough-on-crime stance taken by many black politicians and civic leaders in the 1980s and 1990s, These were times when the crack epidemic wrought particular havoc in the black community in Washington, DC – on which Forman focuses – and which created a demand for get-tough policies by the black middle class that was disproportionately the victim of crack-fueled crime. The second is the trend towards pretextual searches of cars in Washington – Eric Holder’s version of Rudy Giuliani’s stop-and-frisk – which was designed to reduce gun possession in DC. Those searches were deliberately executed with greater vigor in poor, black neighborhoods, and the result was that many poor blacks were arrested for minor drug offenses when officers found marijuana in their cars while looking for guns. It’s a Greek tragedy, and it reminded me favorably of Randy Shilts’ brilliant treatment of the AIDS epidemic in And The Band Played On.Forman’s background as a former public defender in DC is a great strength of the book, but it also makes the narrative somewhat DC-centric. Incarceration increased throughout the country – were the political and justice dynamics the same in Mississippi and Ohio, to take two examples, as they were in DC. That remains an open question. The book is frustrating, too, in that Forman offers no easy cure for the problems. More drug treatment programs, more constructive diversion programs for youthful offenders, more nuanced reading of arrest records by current and prospective employers? Those would all be good, to be sure, but I left this book feeling that it would take these things, and at least a handful of similarly benign trends, before we will really get a handle on these problems. But it is to Forman’s credit that he offers no silver bullet for the problems. Life is sadly frustrating at times.

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  16. scandsk

    Do you think there is a clear distinction between a violent and non-violent offender? Do you think black on black crime is a civil rights issue or the case for decriminalizing marijuana is obvious? Take a moment to read this book, it is humbling in its breadth, nuance and its ability to provoke introspection.

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  17. Sipaco

    Living most of my life in a small city in rural America, I know little of inner city black American lives. I found this book to be very enlightening as I learned that through the past 40 years most people in the inner cities shared the same concerns of drug and gun violence as people in rural locations, and they resorted to similar policies to protect their communities and their children from the scourges of cocaine, heroin, and gangs. The book did not explore why rural areas (that are greater than 90 percent white ) apparently did not enact as punitive laws against poor whites as inner city blacks did against poor blacks. But I came away from reading this book that rural white attitudes toward drug and gun violence are similar. Though I have not come across similar pleas in rural white America for leniency in criminal sentencing in selected cases, I think this author’s ideas have merit. This book is extraordinarily well researched and very readable. Excellent book!

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  18. Clint Vogus

    A tragic story that every American should read; we need to work together to continue to fight the prejudice that still exists in America and truly treat all men as equal.

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  19. Mark B

    Book was well written. Well researched. Gives one incite they might not have had otherwise.

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  20. Todd M. Warren

    This book stimulated my mind and broke my heart; then inspired me with a sliver of optimism. It carries the reader along through decades of incremental choices that led America to have the worlds largest incarceration rate, disproportionately locking up poor black men. It has a few ideas for incrementally unwinding the damage. – Ruth Warren

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  21. Elta Marie Wilson

    Well written. Easy to read. Points are clear and well made.

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  22. Kathleen Broglio

    Mass incarceration and how we got to where we are today in America. James Forman describes the history and various forces that led to our current situation. The book is thought provoking and leaves the reader asking – WHAT can I do to help?

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  23. Kindle Customer

    Must read for racial justice activists.

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  24. Chris-Ukoko

    This book is very informative. Everyone should read it. The problem is there are too many names, dates and acronyms, it gets confusing. That is why I have on kindle, and I just highlight. It is a book that puts things in perspective.

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  25. Tyler Parchem

    Great insight into the history of justice in America.

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  26. Harding A. Travis

    Excellent reading as relevant then as it applies today environment.

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  27. Amazon Customer

    Focusing on the wars on drugs and crime in Washington, DC, James Forman explores the complex and convoluted road we have traveled to become the world leader in incarcerating our citizens, an alarmingly disproportionate share of whom are black and poor. His attention to detail and refusal to engage in polemics makes this one of the best books on mass incarceration out today. More than write a brilliant book, Forman has shown us a way forward. If mass incarceration is the product of countless small decisions made over decades, some with malice toward the black poor, others rooted in concern; many made at the federal level but more by states and cities, then it is through a similar series of small decisions that it can be dismantled.

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  28. Amy

    I worked in justice system for more than a decade. I filed lawsuits, published studies and got interviewed on network TV. But boy, I sure learned a lot from this book. Chapter Five alone is worth the cover price.We know how individuals become enmeshed in the systems they’re part of. We see the reformist rookie become just another jaded cop or prosecutor, making arrests or recommending long sentences because that’s their job. Surely that’s true and it is reflected in this book.But that’s not all. Forman reminds us that black America was neither powerless nor a mere spectator to the War on Crime that put so many African Americans behind bars. It was a full participant. Crime was rampant and people were scared. They wanted protection and help — so they turned to the only tools available, police and prisons. Yes, they also wanted a “Marshall plan for the cities” and a long range anti-poverty program. But even as they didn’t get it, they needed to do something right now about those kids on the corner. Something, anything. Now!Step by step, policy by policy, the noose tightened. If only we knew then what we know now, Forman seems to imply. But we didn’t. Locking Up Our Own is a terrific history lesson and a nice reminder that the world is always more complicated than it looks.

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  29. KATHY WASHINGTON

    Tells the naked truth.

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  30. Amazon Customer

    Amazing book! Forman’s writing is captivating and accessible, and his subject matter is absolutely riveting. A must read for anyone interested in criminal justice, race, or politics. Forman’s book is at once deeply personal, drawing on poignant narratives from his time working as a DC Public Defender, and a critical contribution to the national conversation about this country’s mass incarceration crisis.

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  31. A4WES

    Having lived through the events Forman discusses, I found his analysis very informative. There is much I wasn’t aware of. (Or had forgotten).

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  32. Ken Christiansen

    Locking Up Our Own tells the story of the implementation of the War On Drugs focusing on Washington D.C., a majority black city with blacks dominating both politics and the criminal justice system. Forman, now a Law Professor at Yale University, incorporates experiences gained during seven years as Public Defender during the 1990s into his writing.A key point I didn’t understand before reading the book was the intensity of black support for anti-crime and anti-drug policies that selectively targeted their own communities. The heroine epidemic of the 1960s and the crack epidemic of the 1980s both caused many deaths and major social upset in the black community. Guns played a major role in many robberies and murders committed to support a drug habit. During January of 1988, for instance, 37 people were murdered in Washington D.C., mostly using guns and for reasons related to drug use. The twin ideas of putting away drug offenders and getting guns off the street, ideas strongly supported by black citizens of Washington D.C. and other cities, played a significant role in the creation of what has come to be known as mass incarnation.Here is how it worked. In 1994, Eric Holder, then serving as the United States District Attorney for the District of Columbia, initiated “Operation Ceasefire.” The goal was to “stop cars, search cars, seize guns.” The program was very popular and did result in the confiscation of many guns. When a car was being searched, however, other crimes were also noted and charged such as possession of any cocaine or marijuana that might be found in the glove compartment or under the seat. “Pretext stops” became common. That meant stopping drivers for any infraction including such things as possibly having the car windows tinted too much. In 1996 pretext stops including searches of the entire car were allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court as long as there was any legal reason for the stop. The general consensus was that with all the traffic laws out there, everyone violated at least one of them every time they drove anywhere. This allowed for nearly anyone to be stopped on a legal pretext.But there were exceptions. In Washington D.C. and other cities, black neighborhoods had disproportionately high rates of murder using guns. That statistic was used to justify conducting pretext stops to seize guns only in black neighborhoods. While many illegal guns were found, far more people were charged with drug crimes as a result of the searches. Nonetheless, black support was strong because of the fear of violence that continued to take place in the community. Not until much later was it recognized how much violence mass incarceration itself visited upon the community.Many of the politicians who advocated for strict enforcement and harsh penalties for both guns and drugs also advocated for programs to rehabilitate offenders. Some called for a new Marshall Plan to rebuild crumbling neighborhoods. Unfortunately, only the punitive measures were significantly funded.Locking Up Our Own won a Pulitzer Prize in the category of General Non-Fiction. It is a very readable book – well written with good stories. I highly recommend it to anyone who cares about the directions our criminal justice systems have taken us.

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  33. Robert M.

    The book is very relevant to what is going on in our country. Also, we never realize how many African Americans are police chiefs, attorneys and in political office. Which begs the question—how have these individuals helped the criminal justice system become more equitable to African Americans and the mass incarcerations that surround many communities?

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  34. dale

    Very thought provoking book. Presented extensive historical facts as to the roots of strict sentencing for drug related crimes and the unintended consequences of it on the black community decades later.

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  35. Rickey James Richardson

    Great non-fiction with good background history.

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  36. John Denvir

    Great book! Lots of important info, but also a story the reader can connect with.

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  37. Powell

    This book gives us the perspective of a former defense lawyer but he is able to look at both sides of the situation where a nation has turned on certain youth and are putting them away where they lose all acccess to an education and lose contact with society. I have to add a personal note. We put billions of dollars into punishment rather than in education and health care. I wonder what choices these youth have. They are treated as disposable.

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  38. Fred Moody

    I’ve never read such a thoroughly nuanced discussion of the surprising history behind mass incarceration and racial disparity in law enforcement. One of the best (and most moving) books I’ve read on any subject, in any genre.

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  39. Max C.

    “Locking Up Our Own” is without a doubt one of the more important and timely reads for our present social and political environment. Often left out in our conversations about crime and punishment is an idea that African American leaders and our community at large have just been innocent bystanders and not influential actors in perpetuating mass incarceration. James breaks that down.He brings an authentic voice and perspective that makes this real and accessible. He ends the book with a salient message about the importance of speaking truth to power, holding each other accountable, and how focusing on the “root causes” of violence means that ALL of us has a role to play in breaking the cycle. At an individual level through our interactions with others (showing mercy and compassion) and through our own spaces/institutions…education, business, healthcare, etc.As someone working in this space, I appreciate James closing with a check for us social justice warriors; our current state of affairs is due to incremental steps over time so we need a level of sticktoitiveness. We cannot expect it all to be solved overnight.

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  40. KD

    While it is difficult and painful to read, it is one of the most important works of our time.

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  41. P. Cardella

    I just finished this audiobook and I’m still crying. The last chapter in particular broke me. This is a necessary and welcome addition to the growing literature about our system of mass incarceration, how it came to be and the shortcomings of it. As Dr. Forman ably demonstrates, there are no single causes to our system and it is understandable how we got here, however, the system is broken and needs change. I cannot recommend the book highly enough.

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  42. Jill S

    Very interesting history lesson with stories that illustrated the author’s point well.

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  43. Jara Crawford

    This was a great book about the history behind mass incarceration (and specifically, mass incarceration of black people) in the United States. I would highly suggest it for anyone who is trying to understand and/or learn more about racism in the American justice system.

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  44. Franklin B Energy

    If you need to understand the causes of this horrific situation – you MUST READ THIS!!!I bought my own copy, and the factual research clarity here is SO GREAT – I will want torefer back to this again and again.You MUST READ THIS – unless you want this tragedy to continue – for those of you whodo want this – I suggest you ALSO MUST read this!! This is the penultimate counterpointto the propaganda which we’ve been force-fed for 50+ years.Open your mind and rise with your head held up – and see the striking difference betweenCLEAR – CONCISE – LOGIC – RATIONAL DEBATE – and humble consideration for all ofthe players in this tragedy. It’s really superb documentation like no other.

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  45. JW

    An easy to read, well researched, as well as personal evidence of the abominations of the supposed “Justice” system in America. Well written with thoughtful analysis of the complexities that have driven our young people to waste away in jails and prisons.

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  46. Kindle Customer

    “Locking up our Own” is a gripping and essential book to help us understand one of the most serious problems affecting America. Professor Forman explains how we got here and recommends a bold path out.He tells the history of Black Americans and crime since 1975. He does this with clear prose, personalizing the history to avoid the usual abstractions and cliches. I read the daily New York Times during this period, yet I learned a lot from these chapters.The core of this book is Fordam’s recommendation for a first step out of this mess. Sensibly, he does not purport to give comprehensive definitive solutions. He suggests we make a bold experiment. He does not say so, but both Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. probably would approve. We should try it.

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  47. Stabilo 88

    Great book! A must read for criminal justice and any slim chance of reform in the future.

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  48. Denise

    Good read.

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  49. Adofo Minka

    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 officials were tasked with controlling the local criminal punishment apparatus and legislative processes. The history that Foreman uncovers shows that black elected and appointed officials who made political, economic and social gains from the advancements of the civil rights movements, many times adopted the status quo solutions to of remedying crime through punishments in many instances even when they knew that the true root causes of criminality were addiction, economic inequity and racism. However, instead of taking the time, energy and brain power necessary to come up with root cause solutions to crime such providing mental health services, drug rehabilitation, leveling the economic field and ultimately, taking the political positions that they had acquired in government and attempt to dismantle the status quo that kept so many poor black people locked inside of a vicious cycle that was marred by poverty, crime and hopelessness, these individual took their new found class status, pushed the dominant narrative and passed harsher and more punitive laws that played into the politics of crime and punishment. To be fair to these politicians who added fuel and legitimacy to the call for longer and harsher punishment, Foreman also points out that the community bewildered by crime, drugs and violence also were calling for these elected leaders to do something about the devastation the crime, drugs and violence were wreaking on their communities. However, looking back we can clearly see that these politicians took the road of least resistance and that was throwing poor black people away into prisons who were ultimately victims of a political, social and economic context that they did not create. Leadership must employ creativity, empathy, compassion and ingenuity to solve the problems of crime and violence. The history shows that the individuals in political authority who had control of the criminal punishment apparatus after being victimized by it for so long, failed when they had their shot at the helm.Even In the Age of Trumps America, there are still localities throughout the United States who claim to be electing black progressive and even “radical” political leadership. Locking Up Our Own serves as a cautionary tale to what not to do in the realm of criminal justice if we are to have any real justice on the local and state levels particularly. It also shows what happens when oppressed group take control of the political apparatus without purging ourselves of the social values of our oppressors. Without such a purging, the formerly oppressed class will be just as punitive and unforgiving as those who held control previously. However, instead of being on the basis of race, such punishment and long term harm will be carried out on the basis of class.

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  50. ARN

    a beautiful and compassionate, while hard-hitting read, about how mass incarceration of black men got started and what we can do about it now at the local level. Forman, a civil rights lawyer and university professor, has a unique point of view, based on his experience as a public defender and founder of a charter school for teen drop-outs from public schools.

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  51. Martin Lobel

    A view from the front lines as well as academia about why incremental changes in our justice system led to such a dysfunction system, especially for Black victims and criminals. I couldn’t put it down. I now have a much better understanding of why we are where we are and some changes that could significantly make the system more just and less expensive.

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  52. K G

    Important history of the role of local government in the rise of mass incarceration. Speaks to the power of local government. Good read for those interested in an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

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  53. Amazon Customer

    In “Locking Up Our Own,” James Forman Jr. offers a nuanced history of how the scale of incarceration in the United States came to be. It not only describes the state of criminal justice in the United States, but demonstrates the way in which seemingly opposing world views can converge to push forward particular policies, for good or for bad. Forman’s approach encourages more critical, nuanced understandings of history in general, particularly regarding the history of race and politics in the United States, a crucial historical background to discussions on criminal justice policy and discussions well beyond.

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  54. prentice

    As we are experiencing a rise in crime in most of our major cities in the United States, it’s important that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. This book details how we dealt with the last surge and the unintended consequences that came with those decisions.

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  55. Johnny Apple cider

    Excellent synopsis and historical review of some of the foundational elements complicit in the profound and disheartening state of the African American community. Thank you for the absolute treasure and insight within this discourse. If one desires to have a true understanding of this topic then you will not be disappointed.

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  56. JAMES S. NEWMAN

    Not many books can change minds, but this one does. Thoroughly researched and compelling, Locking Up Our Own shows how injustices and unintended consequences were incrementally built into our justice systems, (and this is key) often for what appeared to be good reasons. Now all of society must contend with the results. Realistic, street-wise and experienced, Professor Forman shows the beginnings of a way forward.

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  57. D. Oehrke

    This book is a great read. In a relatively small number of pages, the author manages to tell a fascinating story of criminal justice and race in America during a 50 year period (late 1960s to the present day). It’s a complex subject for sure, but the author provides an excellent narrative covering an extended period of time, and also includes a few personal stories from his work as a public defender. Read this book, I guarantee you will learn something new.

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  58. Melanie Bates

    Impressive work. Eloquent analysis of D.C.’s complicated history surrounding criminal justice. A must-read for anyone in the fight for reform.

    Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

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  59. S. James

    I learned a lot from reading this book. It was eye opening. It has certainly caused me to rethink my stance on individuals who have committed violent crimes. Has also caused me to consider what steps I can take to make a difference. I loved when Forman discussed individual stories involving his clients. I wish there had been even more stories.

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  60. Evan Westerfield

    A fascinating and fresh look at one of the most important issues of our time. I was captivated from the very first page as Forman weaves stories of actual individuals into the broader narrative of civil rights. Who in his right mind would try to talk about the role that black leaders played in producing our national tragedy of mass incarceration? Who could possibly hope to navigate that minefield without being accused of being an apologist or a racist? But with amazing skill, Forman manages to tell the story, in vivid and compelling detail, in a way that makes sense, confers dignity and responsibility appropriately, and even provides hopeful guidance for the future. You’ll finish this book with a new appreciation for the problem of mass incarceration. You’ll also leave with a lens and perspective for considering “urgent” proposals for addressing other pressing issues facing our time, like gun control and economic inequality.

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  61. Alvaro E.

    I love this book.

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  62. Lisa Miller

    I loved this book. The author writes in an engaging style and weaves together bits and pieces of history to form s convincing argument for how our legal system is in its current shape. He does do even-handedly which makes him all the more convincing. I only wish there had been more on how to proceed from here.

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  63. Default user

    Required reading for anyone interested in American criminal justice.

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  64. Amazon Customer

    This is a major book that examines how mass incarceration occurred disproportionately impacting the black community. Black politicians and activists supported the legislative measures that increased incarceration with all parties not able to see the unintended consequences. The writing style is fluid, keeping the reader all the way.

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  65. Steven C. Pitts

    First of all, this is a really good read. You find yourself engrossed in the story as people’s lives become real. Equally important: the story in powerful. Forman presents a nuanced view of the complicated relationship between the Black community and the various policy and administrative moves that brought about the rise in incarceration rates since the 70s. In addition, Forman shows how various strata of the Black community responded to and were impact by the rise in mass incarceration…from Black nationalists who felt fighting the war on drugs with punitive measures was part of saving the race; to pastors who felt the cry of parishioners concerned with neighborhood crime; to civil rights activists who moved from a 70s position that civil rights advancement meant integrating police forces and racial parity in police protection to a contemporary view that the wars on drugs and crime were destroying the Black community; and most importantly, to those (largely working class) Blacks who got snared in the broad net cast by the criminal justice system. In summary, Locking Up Our Own provides a nuanced view of the rise of mass incarceration and its impacts that complements today’s activism.

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  66. Fathersteve

    Something must be done and this an excellent place to start. Well worth reading and full of great “street cred”

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  67. Alma Ibarra

    Much needed

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  68. M. Carter

    While Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” spawned a trend in progressive prosecution and other criminal justice reforms in many local governments, Forman’s work is much more powerful because it is much more honest about what it will take to truly reverse Mass Incarceration, and ultimately forces us to really think about what reducing Mass Incarceration really would mean, and whether it makes sense to do at all.After reading “The New Jim Crow,” one could come away with the mistaken conclusion that Mass Incarceration is due to marijuana laws that are out of control, and a white racist conspiracy that chases down black people and throws them in jail for a bit of weed here and there. THAT IS NOT TRUE, and Forman gives us a much more thorough and honest look at how we got where we are in terms of Mass Incarceration.In a nutshell, Forman tells the story of how violence, not drugs, caused even black-majority city councils and policy making bodies to adopt ever harsher criminal justice policies. Many of the harsh policies were adopted by cities in a desperate attempt to reduce the spiraling black-on-black crime violent crime rates during the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. These cities were essentially held hostage by black criminals who preyed on their own communities through rampant murder, robbery, and assault.In this way, Mass Incarceration is a result of many small decisions that seemed like good ideas at the time because of the sheer desperation seen in many black communities. It is also in large part the result of violent criminality rather than “low-level drug offenses,” which Alexander would like us to believe.In fact, only about 20 percent of America’s prisoners are in on drug charges. This means 80 percent are in on other charges, and we also know that more than half of prisoners in state institutions are there for violent crimes.All of this means that in order to make any sort of dent in Mass Incarceration, the American public will need to be able to accept the idea of leniency not only for “non-violent offenders,” but also for predators — violent gangsters who participate in drive-by shootings, robberies, and other antisocial crimes.This is the real conversation to be had, and there are logical and passionate voices on both sides of the issue. Wasting time talking about reducing Mass Incarceration by tinkering with drug laws will not get us closer to the solution on this. Tackling the ugly and fraught issue of black violent crime will, but only if we as a society have the stomach for it.

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  69. Michael S. Scott

    James Forman has done a masterful job documenting the political, social and criminal justice dynamics of the mass arrest and incarceration period, largely fueled by the crack cocaine epidemic. It’s a complex dynamic that he describes accurately and fairly. This book serves as an important corrective to some of today’s collective amnesia about how we got to the point where we are today with regard to policing and incarceration, and the disparate impact it has had on lower-class African American communities. Forman appropriately focuses on the strategic choices made—by police, prosecutors, judges, and political leaders—about how best to address the crack cocaine trafficking and attendant violence. A toxic combination of racial and class bias, political opportunism, genuine fear, and lack of imagination fueled the mass-arrest-and-incarceration strategy. It is to be hoped that we have learned lessons about the failures of that strategy, and that they will not be forgotten or ignored when future social problems present themselves. Police, prosecutors, and others must better appreciate that there are strategic choices to be made about how best to address public-safety problems, and that those choices have important implications for both effectiveness and fairness. Forman’s book can help encourage police and prosecution leaders to be more adamant about deliberating these choices openly and honestly. I hope this book gets the attention it richly deserves.

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  70. annonymously

    Builds a realistic plan for reform on the foundation of the actual history of mass incarceration in Washington, DC, a city with mostly black police and political leadership. It both moving and hard headed.

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  71. Dave Shumway

    No issues

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  72. Judy S

    Locking Up Our Own details crime and punishment of blacks in America very succinctly. It is very well written detailing just what the reader needs and nothing else. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about the justice system in America.

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  73. L. Freeman

    Excellent! A riveting description of the role that blacks played in helping create mass incarceration in Washington DC. I highly recommend the book for anyone hoping to understand how we got where we are today.

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  74. Amazon Customer

    The book presents an interesting perspective through its focus on policy decisions produced within Black America, the context of the decisions and their subsequent effects on policing/sentencing. The personal stories from the author’s work as a public defender help further humanize the issue and keep the reader interested among the deluge of historical facts.

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  75. Welch Fair

    Excellent delivery service!

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  76. Krazy About Kids

    This is an amazing read!!! It forces us to take a serious look at the real forces behind the failed attempts at criminal justice reform. And it’s not going to be a pleasant journey. While we search for solutions at the National level we continue to give a pass to our Black leadership at the local level where it truly counts. James Forman makes us take our heads out of the sand to confront this ugly truth. This treatise is also empowering for a real public policy discussion on what drives imprisonment.

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  77. Econ Reader1950

    Wonderful book that personalizes the country’s current situation How we got here and the heart felt recommendations of the author that I agree with.

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  78. Jmoney245

    xcellent book with great details. Knowledge of history and an explanation of why some of these laws were passed. Thanks for this book.

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  79. Tim K

    Excellent look at how we arrived at today’s often unjust criminal justice system. What was striking is that the system was built incrementally over decades by people who fully believed they were protecting citizens. Specifically, many of the things we see in 2020 as disastrous for communities of color were often supported by those same communities. When your communities are full of crime and drug use, mandatory minimums or stop-and-frisk often appear to be the lesser of two evils. But as noted throughout, we’ll never create a truly just system until we address the root causes of why people are drawn toward crime and drug useI highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the criminal justice system.

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  80. tyesha

    great

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  81. Larry

    Just about all products met my satisfaction. The inflatable pool was not a favorite. Difficult to inflate

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  82. Melinda Howell

    This book is a masterful narrative of how we contributed to mass incarceration. It was eye opening, and offers insights on how we can resist similar temptations today. Professor Forman provides a path forward for decarceration, and humanizes defendants in only the way a compassionate advocate can. Grateful to have read such a fantastic book, should be required reading for any person interested in justice related issues!

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  83. Lionel S. Taylor

    This is a book that I have to say opened my eyes about something that I thought I knew a lot about. The author explains the past 50 years of criminal and drug laws and how it has dis-proportionally effected the black community.What is surprising about this book is that the author makes the argument that while the black community has been hit the hardest by many of these laws, it was the same black community that advocated for them. The structure of laws such as harsh drug laws and the practices such as stop and frisk were not all put in as some omnibus bill passed by racist politicians but were instead piecemeal implemented by politicians representing some of the communities that felt under attack during a period when crime was rampant. And just as they were implemented piecemeal, the author argues that they may have to be taken apart piecemeal. Unfortunately while that is happening many people will still fall victim to these laws. I think that the author does a good job of explaining how these laws came about as well as putting a human face on the problem by relating some of the people he interacted with as a public defender in Washington D.C. This is an excellent book that puts the current criminal justice system in context and explains how we got where we are today.

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  84. George E. Dawson

    “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 favorite non-fiction authors:“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 (Kindle Locations 6398-6402)Recommendation: Do not hesitate to move Locking Up Our Own to a nigher place on your ‘to read’ list. Share it with your high-schoolers.Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. 6,482 Kindle Loctions, 320 pages

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  85. D. Lumber

    The current narrative on mass incarceration is that a bunch of white legislators, tainted by racism, some of it overt and some of it implicit bias, ramped up policing and penalties which fell hardest on poor black males. This book alters that narrative. Apparently many black people were calling for increased policing and increased penalties for a myriad of reasons. Nationalists viewed drugs as a scourge which would destroy the race. Older black folks and pastors were upset about drug addiction, and the prevalence of street crime, that was rampant in poor black communities. And totally unknown to me, the upper and upper-middle class blacks looked seriously down upon poor blacks and their seemingly wayward behavior, which they saw as drawing discredit and scorn onto black people overall (I assume, mainly as the reason better-off blacks were still viewed with contempt by certain people).The black politicians and many constituents viewed policing as inadequate in poorer areas, which they saw as permitting drug traffic and crime to flourish. An activists view was that black police officers would be more respectful of black citizens, and treat black people better; thus more black police were needed. Turned out not to be the case, even in departments run by black chiefs. The black cops were no better at being respectful to poor blacks, nor more respectful of poor people’s rights. Were these cops transformed by racist departments? Was it that they were now at least middle class, and thus turned their scorn onto the poor, lower class blacks they saw as bringing down their station in life? Who knows. Ravaged first by heroin, then by crack, many of the black politicians of the 70s/80s/90s were calling for increased policing of poor neighborhoods, increased mandatory minimum sentences, and increased maximum sentences. Of course, the typical black politician will come from the middle and upper classes, not the poverty stricken. Was it classism driving them? Pandering? Were they well-meaning, but lacked foresight? Who knows.There are no easy answers from this book. I don’t discount that there were many racist (implicitly or explicitly) white legislators out there who were all too happy to lock up lots of poor black men. But I did not realize that there was a whole group of black legislators, egged on by various constituencies in their communities, who were clamoring for the same thing, albeit for a different set of reasons. While I appreciated the new information presented in this book, and how it changed my understanding of what caused mass incarceration, I found myself rather depressed at the lack of any good solutions.

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  86. Amazon Customer

    Incredibly insightful. I couldn’t put it down!

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  87. Cee Bee

    An excellent perspective into the DC area criminal justice system. Mr. Forman gives an in depth explanation of how many African Americans get caught up into the system and stay stuck. But coming from an ex Public Defenders view point Mr. Forman also gives some food for thought into some solutions to combat this epidemic.

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  88. Amazon Customer

    This is such an important exploration of the complexity of these kinds of issues. So often, particularly now with the era of tweeting, our public discourse suffers from oversimplification. This only makes progress through common understanding more difficult. This book is a great step in the right direction. I hope it becomes a best seller!

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  89. Tihana

    Amazing piece of research and creative thinking.Was taken aback.Beautiful written.

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  90. Jean d’Arc

    I would not have picked this book for pleasure reading. A member of my book group chose it. It was a real eye opener, revealing a history that I did not know. It showed me how isolated I had been from the pain of others in our country. This book reveals the deep issues of our criminal justice system, why it is so broken, and what needs to change. Everyone needs to read this book.

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

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