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Publisher's Summary

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

What members say

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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.

17 of 19 people found this review 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.

1 of 1 people found this review 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.

3 of 4 people found this review 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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Must read

This book is a must read for all policy makers. Mr. Forman makes a compelling case for looking at crime and punishment in the United States through a more compassionate and humane lens.

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Great book

A must read. Recommended to all my friends who love to read. It's very informative.

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Absolute must read

Great analysis of the history of the criminal justice system, from the street level to the government. Compelling arguments about how and why criminal justice reform is so complicated and why the U.S. is the world leader in mass incarceration.

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Historical facts about criminal justice system.

I love the book!!Great historical facts.i definitely recommend it to everyone I know.The narrator was excellent.

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This is a book everyone should read.

The information is so important and the stories are told with great humanity. I was very moved by the end of the book.

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Thought Provoking and Worth Your Time

Would you listen to Locking Up Our Own again? Why?

I loved Locking Up Our Own for many reasons, but one of the key takeaways was about the unintended consequences of many small steps that can work together to cause a massive force for change. I never realized how many small nuances contributed to the current problem with law enforcement and prisons and the well-intentioned goals of the people who lead us on this path.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The process of discovery that you go through when reading this book was largely experienced by the author so you share a feeling with the author where every new idea causes a reaction of: "But I thought...." only to find out there was more to the story. The well researched details convinced me that my views had been overly simplistic.

Which scene was your favorite?

I think the story of the "violent offender" was very touching because everyone hates violent offenders. It is so tempting to say that certain categories of people should endure this or that consequence of their behavior but it is best to look very closely at the details when designing systems. Fundamentally, zero tolerance systems can't allow flexibility and when definitions are broad, that is going to introduce potentially serious injustices into people's everyday lives. They may cause as much injustice as the problems they were designed to prevent - just to a different population.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I wouldn't say I wanted to listen in one sitting, but only because there were things I wanted to think over, digest, and incorporate into my "world view". This book gives you a lot to chew on - about life in general as much as about the main topic of race problems in law enforcement and justice systems in the US.

Any additional comments?

This book is an excellent counterpoint and companion to "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful