Locking Up Our Own
May 17, 2018
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. In the face of skyrocketing murder rates and the proliferation of open-air drug markets, black officials believed they had no choice. But the policies they adopted would have devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighborhoods.
James Forman, Jr. represented juveniles as a public defender in Washington, D.C. Currently, he is a professor at Yale Law School. This event was presented by the Brennan Center and the NYU Brademas Center, and hosted by NYU Washington, DC.
The Brennan Center's Senior Fellow, Theodore Johnson, joined James Forman, Jr. for the discussion which was moderated by CNN's Senior Political Reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.
James Forman Jr., Professor, Yale Law School
James Forman Jr. is a Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is a graduate of Atlanta’s Roosevelt High School, Brown University, and Yale Law School, and was a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the United States Supreme Court.
After clerking, he joined the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., where for six years he represented both juveniles and adults charged with crimes.
During his time as a public defender, Professor Forman 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 school dropouts and youth who had previously been arrested. A decade later, in 2007, Maya Angelou School expanded and agreed to run the school inside D.C.’s juvenile prison. That school, which had long been an abysmal failure, has been transformed under the leadership of the Maya Angelou staff; the court monitor overseeing D.C.’s juvenile system called the turnaround “extraordinary.”
Forman taught at Georgetown Law from 2003 to 2011, when he joined the Yale faculty. At Yale, he teaches Constitutional Law, a seminar called Race, Class and Punishment, and a seminar called Inside Out: Issues in Criminal Justice, in which Yale law students study alongside men incarcerated in a Connecticut prison.
Professor Forman teaches and writes in the areas of criminal procedure and criminal law policy, constitutional law, juvenile justice, and education law and policy. His particular interests are schools, prisons, and police, and those institutions’ race and class dimensions. Professor Forman’s first book, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, was published in 2017.
Nia-Malika Henderson, Senior Political Reporter, CNN
Nia-Malika Henderson is a senior political reporter for CNN, reporting on politics, policies, and people shaping Washington. Henderson reports for the network's digital and television platforms, and regularly appears as a panelist for CNN's Inside Politics, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. She also often serves as fill-in anchor for Inside Politics.
Henderson joined the network in 2015 and most recently covered the 2016 election, the Presidential transition, President Donald Trump's administration and the Democratic party. During the 2016 election season, she reported on the Democratic and Republican candidates, covering Bernie Sanders' insurgent campaign, Ben Carson's unlikely bid and Donald Trump's realignment of the Republican party.
Prior to joining CNN, Henderson was a national political reporter for The Washington Post, where she covered the White House, the 2012 presidential campaign, the 2010 mid-term elections and anchored The Post's Election 2012 blog. She also covered the first two years of the Obama administration for Politico and was Newsday's lead reporter covering Obama's 2008 campaign, the Democratic primary race and the Democratic National Convention. In 2005, Henderson was part of the Newsday team named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for a series on the history of hip hop. Before joining Newsday's national staff, she wrote for The Baltimore Sun.
Henderson graduated from Duke University with a bachelor's degree in literature and cultural anthropology, and earned master's degrees from Yale University in American studies and Columbia University in journalism.
Theodore Johnson, Senior Fellow, The Brennan Center for Justice
Theodore R. Johnson is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Dr. Johnson was a national fellow at the New America Foundation, where he undertook projects on black voting behavior and the role of national solidarity in addressing racial inequality. Previously, he was a Commander in the United States Navy and, most recently, a research manager at Deloitte.
From 1994-2016 Johnson was a career military officer whose service included humanitarian assistance operations in Southeast Asia, as a military professor at the US Naval War College, and as a cyber operations and intelligence expert. He also acted as senior policy advisor in the Departments of Defense and Energy, and as speechwriter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In recognition of his leadership in public service, Johnson was selected as a White House Fellow during the Obama administration.
Since 2013, Dr. Johnson’s research and writing has explored the interaction of policy and politics with race and racial disparities. In 2016, his examination of African American voting behavior won the Dean’s Medal for most outstanding doctoral work and serves as the basis for first book project on race and solidarity in the United States.
His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, POLITICO, WIRED, National Review, New Republic, and other national and niche publications. His academic lectures and media engagements include appearances at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, UCLA’s Hammer Museum, University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and TEDx.
Dr. Johnson holds a B.S. in mathematics from Hampton University, an A.L.M. with a concentration in International Relations from Harvard University, and a Doctorate of Law and Policy from Northeastern University.
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.
Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. Many prominent black officials, including Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry and federal prosecutor Eric Holder, feared that the gains of the civil rights movement were being undermined by lawlessness―and thus 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, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims. He writes with compassion about 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.