James Forman, Jr.
Former Public Defender, Professor, and Criminal Justice Reformer


James Forman, Jr. graduated from Roosevelt High School in Atlanta, Brown University, and Yale Law School. He worked as a law clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court. After clerking, he joined the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., where for six years he represented juveniles and adults in felony and misdemeanor cases.

 

Professor Forman loved being a public defender, but he quickly became frustrated with the lack of education and job training opportunities for his clients. So in 1997, along with David Domenici, he started the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, an alternative school for dropouts and youth who had previously been arrested.

 

At Yale Law School, where has taught since 2011, Professor Forman teaches Constitutional Law and a course called Race, Class, and Punishment. Last year he took his teaching behind prison walls, offering a seminar called Inside-Out Prison Exchange: Issues in Criminal Justice, which brought together, in the same classroom, 10 Yale Law students and 10 men incarcerated in a CT prison.

 

Professor Forman’s first book is the critically-acclaimed Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, which has been named one of the “best books of the year” by Publisher’s Weekly, longlisted for the National Book Award and the American Librarian Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, and shortlisted for the Stephen Russo Book Prize for Social Justice. A Washington Post bestseller and a New York Times Editor’s Choice, Locking Up Our Own has been called “superb and shattering” in the New York Times, “eloquent” and “sobering” in the London Review of Books, and “moving, nuanced, and candid” in the New York Review of Books. The New York Times book reviewer Jennifer Senior said Locking Up Our Own was “the best book I’ve read this year.”

 

You can connect with Professor Forman via Twitter (@JFormanJr) and his website www.jamesformanjr.com.

 

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Hardcover
Locking Up Our OwnCrime and Punishment in Black America
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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 James Forman, Jr., 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.

Locking Up Our Own Based on his critically-acclaimed book by the same name, this talk builds on Forman's work as a public defender, a founder of a charter school for incarcerated teens, and a law professor to outline the criminal justice crisis with both data and human stories. He leaves the audience with hope for what can be done to make a difference, and how they themselves can contribute to change.
Fighting for Racial Justice during the Trump Presidency Professor Forman addresses two issues that have been his life’s work and that he considers central to today’s civil rights movement—working against mass incarceration and for better schools. He offers a message of hope, along with concrete suggestions about how to make progress even in the current moment, when national politics are challenging. Throughout the talk, Forman draws insight and inspiration from the words and lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists, including his father, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Race and Education Professor Forman discusses race, class, and American public schools. He draws on his own research, his experience as a founder of a charter school for kids from the juvenile justice system, and his experience teaching a class at Yale where he takes law students into a Connecticut prison for a weekly seminar.








Listen to James Forman discuss mass incarceration on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Read the New York Times Book Review of Locking Up Our Own.

Check out Locking Up Our Own‘s inclusion on the NYT Book Review’s “10 Books We Recommend This Week.”

Read Forman’s articles, “The Society of Fugitives” and “Between the World and Me: 10,000 Years from Tomorrow” published in The Atlantic. 

TIME quotes Forman in its discussion on the Confederate flag in South Carolina.

Read about Locking Up Our Own in reference to The New Jim Crow.

Listen to James on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Read an in-depth discussion of Locking Up Our Own and its arguments in The Atlantic’s June 2017 issue.

Watch Tavis Smiley interview James on PBS.

Watch or read the PBS NewsHour interview with James.

Listen to James’ appearance on This is Happening.

Read about Locking Up Our Own in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Read a perspective from outside the U.S. in The Guardian‘s review of Locking Up Our Own.

Read a powerful, thought-provoking review of Locking Up Our Own in the London Review of Books.

Read James’ feature in the Huffington Post.

Learn more about James on his faculty profile and follow James on Twitter.

Read James’ article “A Prison Sentence Ends. But the Stigma Doesn’t.” on  NY Times’ website

Praise for Locking Up Our Own


"Superb and shattering . . . 'How did a majority ­black jurisdiction end up incarcerating so many of its own?' This is the exceptionally delicate question that [Forman] tries to answer, with exemplary nuance, over the course of his book. His approach is compassionate . . . It’s [Forman's] six years as a public defender that seem most relevant to the sensibility of this book—and that give it a special halo, setting it apart."
— Jennifer Senior, The New York Times

"The big spring book to argue about . . . Forman can catalogue more dysfunctional systems at close range than The Wire did."
—Boris Kachka, Vulture

"A sharp analysis . . . Forman shows how our nation has gotten to the point where so many citizens—primarily blacks—are imprisoned . . . Writing with authority and compassion, the author tells many vivid stories of the human toll taken by harsh criminal justice policies. He also asks provocative questions . . . Certain to stir debate, this book offers an important new perspective on the ongoing proliferation of America's 'punishment binge.'"
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Praise for Professor Forman


“James Forman, Jr. is a highly engaging speaker, combining hard data with moving and poignant anecdotes. I invited him to be the keynote speaker at a conference on children's rights and juvenile justice in January 2016. He was outstanding.”
—Professor Kim Ford-Mazrui, University of Virginia School of Law

“James Forman Jr. is an eloquent, engaging, and inspiring speaker. His remarks encourage both reflection and action.”
—Loni M. Bordoloi, Ph.D., Program Director of the Teagle Foundation

"James Forman's convocation address at Macalester was thoroughly compelling: relaxed, lively, yet filled with matters of substance and seriousness. He speaks to the subjects of most importance in our times and does so in a way that is personal and persuasive. I would invite him back to speak again at Macalester in an instant."
—Brian Rosenberg, President of Macalester College

"James Forman's expert and profoundly humanistic presentation on the roots of racialized mass incarceration led his appreciative audience to a deeper understanding of the roots of the problem and what it will take to fix it."
—Tim Ready, Director of Lewis Walker Instittute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations, Western Michigan University

"James Forman, Jr. is an incredible speaker—his breathe of knowledge of the criminal justice system both past and present is quite deep. The evolution of the system from 200,000 prisoners in the 1970s to the current 2.2-million today is shocking but understandable when Professor Forman explains it. It is very easy to see how we dug this whole for ourselves in the U.S. and how we can dig our way out if we want to. Forman knows all the players in this tragic issue and he skillfully avoids demonizing any of them, which would be oh so easy to do. He’s an incredible dynamic and engaging speaker, at the end of the event there wasn’t an adult or student in the room who didn’t wish he was our teacher."
-Sharon La Cruise, Vice President of Admissions, Programs & Resident Life, International House