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

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

James Forman Jr. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-18997-6

Drawing on a varied CV (public defender, Supreme Court clerk, charter school cofounder, Yale law professor), Forman addresses a tangled and thorny issue—the part played by African-Americans in shaping criminal justice policy. A complex picture emerges, focused on Washington, D.C., as black inner-city residents are hurt both by “over- and under-policing” and as effective enforcement and fairer treatment of minorities come to seem incompatible to policymakers. Forman delineates the ravaging effects of cures with boomerang consequences—from vigorous prosecutions of relatively minor offenses that cut offenders off from public benefits, to black anti-drug activism that enables more punitive policing, to mandatory sentencing policies that prove unequally implemented. With regard to public policy, Forman’s attentiveness to class divisions in the black community (for example, the middle-class desire for increased numbers of black policemen, as opposed to the working-class goal of simply accessing new avenues of employment) offers an exemplary perspective. The book achieves genuine immediacy, due not only to the topical subject, but also to Forman’s personal experiences within the legal system. Possibly controversial, undoubtedly argumentative, Forman’s survey offers a refreshing breath of fresh air on the crisis in American policing. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick Literary. (Apr.)