Author James Forman Jr. to discuss ‘Crime and Punishment in Black America’

Author James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Author James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School, will discuss his book "Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America," at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12, in the Sutliff Auditorium of the Lewis Katz Building.

The talk is free and open to the public; however, attendees are asked to register online at Following the talk, Forman will sign copies of his book, which will be available for purchase.

Forman’s talk is co-sponsored by Penn State Law and the Rock Ethics Institute.

About ‘Locking Up Our Own’

In recent years, America’s criminal justice system has become the subject of an increasingly urgent debate. Critics have assailed the rise of mass incarceration, emphasizing its disproportionate impact on people of color. As Forman points out, however, the war on crime that began in the 1970s was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers. In “Locking Up Our Own,” he seeks to understand why.

Forman notes that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Fearing that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness, many prominent black officials, including Washington, D.C., mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, 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 and community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims. He writes with compassion for 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.

Forman 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.