Locking Up Our Own

Crime and Punishment in Black America
Narrated by: Kevin R. Free
Length: 8 hrs and 39 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.5 out of 5 stars (435 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize Winner, Nonfiction, 2018

An original and consequential argument about race, crime, and the law. 

Today, Americans are debating our criminal justice system with new urgency. Mass incarceration and aggressive police tactics - and their impact on people of color - are feeding outrage and a consensus that something must be done. But what if we only know half the story? In Locking Up Our Own, the Yale legal scholar and former public defender James Forman Jr. weighs the tragic role that some African Americans themselves played in escalating the war on crime. As Forman shows, the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office around the country amid a surge in crime. Many came to believe that tough measures - such as stringent drug and gun laws and "pretext traffic stops" in poor African American neighborhoods - were needed to secure a stable future for black communities. Some politicians and activists saw criminals as a "cancer" that had to be cut away from the rest of black America. Others supported harsh measures more reluctantly, believing they had no other choice in the face of a public safety emergency. Drawing on his experience as a public defender and focusing on Washington, DC, Forman writes with compassion for individuals trapped in terrible dilemmas - from the young men and women he defended to officials struggling to cope with an impossible situation. The result is an original view of our justice system as well as a moving portrait of the human beings caught in its coils. 

©2017 James Forman, Jr. (P)2017 Recorded Books
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Outstanding Book

Wow. This book is excellent. I read Michelle Alexander's book as well as the John Pfaff's book on mass incarceration. Both are incredibly insightful (and you need to read BOTH). I was worried this might not add much. Nothing to fear there. Forman delivers an incredibly detailed history of policing in Washington DC. One of the bog lessons from John Pfaff's book is that policing and incarceration are predominantly local. So despite the ease and attraction of focusing on a single national war on drugs/crime - the truth is buried in city and county level stories repeated over and over again. The power of seeing how black officials and black police and black judges also contributed to the problem (despite "thinking" they were doing the right thing) is a powerful insight. This DOES NOT mean that he lays the blame for mass incarceration at the foot of the black community. Far far from it (that would be a deliberately ignorant reading of this book). But showing the hand that all actors played in the current crisis is incredibly useful. He never lays scorn on the people he disagrees with. Instead he tries his best to understand what they were thinking. Overall I am in awe of this book and this author. An incredible work. I want to email him and Yale and think him personally. The narrator is also worth mentioning. This is probably as good as non-fiction can be read. Just the right blend of clarity with emotion and familiarity. An excellent book enhanced by a tremendously gifted narrator. I implore you to read this. Thanks James Forman Jr.

33 people found this helpful

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Best book I've read all year.

I am a long-time public defender. So much of what Professor Forman writes rings true to me. More importantly, he writes about a little-known aspect of the history of our criminal justice system - - the role of various well-intentioned people of color, including African American judges, prosecutors, police officers, and the clergy, in helping to create the system that exists today. However, the author does so with precision, consistently noting the differences between what these African American leaders and advocates envisioned (a domestic Marshal Plan, as the author puts it) and what was ultimately delivered.

The book is readable and thankfully lacks the preachiness of many books on the topic. Last but not least, the narrator was fantastic.

5 people found this helpful

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Find out what to do about mass incarceration

What did you love best about Locking Up Our Own?

Not only gives a missing piece of the history of mass incarceration, but gives ideas on how to correct the situation.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Locking Up Our Own?

Story of child charged with assault with a deadly weapon after throwing a carton of chocolate milk in the cafeteria.

What about Kevin R. Free’s performance did you like?

Good diction, good cadence, not overly dramatic. Voice does not interfere with the words.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

Unintended consequences of folks trying to have positive impact for justice

5 people found this helpful

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Every person in American needs to read this book

I'm not much of a reviewer but I will say this book certainly lets us know how the road to hell (mass incarceration of POC for profit) is paved with good intentions. I have listened to this several times. Each time I am saddened and angry at something new. A must read for every person in this country.

4 people found this helpful

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Historical Analysis with Implications for Today

What did you love best about Locking Up Our Own?

Locking Up Our Own is a fascinating window into an issue that has long confounded many of us – how good intentions, often times responding to real issues, could have driven a problem so devastating and consequential as mass incarceration. In telling this story, though, Forman goes beyond a historical account. By describing the way that well-intentioned policies drove this problem, he sheds light on many reforms that are being attempted today. He describes many of the unintended consequences that these reforms could have, perhaps ones that even delay or inhibit our goals. This book is important for anyone who studies, practices, cares about or is affected by the justice system, or who cares about finding ways that we can advance social change generally.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Locking Up Our Own?

For me, the part that stood out most was the push for all Black police forces, followed by the realization that issues with policing transcend race.

5 people found this helpful

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Please stay all the way through the epilogue

Essential reading to follow up The New Jim Crow.

Considering the greatest share of people incarcerated in the US are convicted of armed robbery, the need to address all offenses, not just “non violent” is key if we want to make real changes in mass incarceration, as is demystifying the misleadership class who helped get us here.

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Locking up our own

I realized how difficult is to be compassionate when you are the victim and how far forgiveness goes when you are the perpetrator. The book gave a little of law enforcement history and statistics which I found boring but the personal stories were enlightening

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Brilliantly Educational

One of my top 5 reads of 2019, plan on sharing with everyone I know

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This is a good book for both sides of the political world.

I don’t agree with everything Mr. Forman says but he does offer a unique view from the early years of mass incarceration and how many black leaders pushed for so many things that we now stand against. I recommend this book to everyone. You don’t have to agree with everything he says but you should at least hear him out.

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Excellent telling of how

incrementally getting tough on crime has decimated the black community. The author focuses on Washington D.C. AND gives the 40 year history of getting tough on crime. Detailing very incrementally how getting tough on crime laws came into existence and their effects both short term and long term on the community. Told in an non partisan way, the author hold many accountable for the current situation of punishment in America. An eye opening read of the back story to where we are today.

1 person found this helpful