The Legal Theory Bookworm recommends Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman, Jr. Here is a description:
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.
And from the reviews:
"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 . . . The effect, for the reader, is devastating. It is also politically consequential . . . Locking Up Our Own is also very poignantly a book of the Obama era, when black authors like [Michelle] Alexander and Bryan Stevenson and Ta-Nehisi Coates initiated difficult conversations about racial justice and inequality . . . 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. The stories he shares are not just carefully curated to make us think differently about criminal justice (though they will, particularly about that hallowed distinction between nonviolent drug offenders and everyone else); they are stories that made Forman himself think differently." ―Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
"Timely . . . A masterly account of how a generation of black elected officials wrestled with recurring crises of violence and drug use in the nation's capital . . . A big deal and a major breakthrough . . . Forman's novel claim is this: What most explains the punitive turn in black America is not a repudiation of civil rights activism, as some have argued, but an embrace of it . . . Locking Up Our Own compel[s] readers to wrestle with some very tough questions about the nature of American democracy and its deep roots in racism, inequality and punishment . . . [Forman shows] that the solution will lie not only with policy changes but with individual changes of heart, too." ―Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The New York Times Book Review
"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)
"Forman's comprehensive research and analysis, as well as his compassion and personal experiences, make Locking Up Our Own a powerfully important and accessible glimpse at the U.S.'s punitive criminal justice system." ―Jen Forbus, Shelf Awareness
"James Forman Jr. masterfully explores why so many African Americans supported tough criminal laws over the past fifty years, and why, more recently, their attitudes began to shift. Combining dramatic stories from his work as a public defender with original historical research, Forman uncovers mass incarceration’s hidden history while documenting its human cost. Beautifully written, powerfully argued, and, most of all, deeply empathetic, Locking Up Our Own should be read by everybody who cares about race and justice in America." ―Van Jones, author of The Green-Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream
"An absolutely essential read for anyone who wants to understand the politics of crime, race, and incarceration."―Chris Hayes, host of All In with Chris Hayes and author of A Colony in a Nation
"Locking Up Our Own is an engaging, insightful, and provocative reexamination of over-incarceration in the black community. James Forman Jr. carefully exposes the complexities of crime, criminal justice, and race. What he illuminates should not be ignored." ―Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative
"James Forman Jr.’s frank and necessary history rings with the authentic voices of black Americans. By paying close attention to local conditions, he shows how well-meaning reforms snowballed into steadily harsher criminal justice policies in Washington, D.C. This is a very valuable and fascinating book―highly readable, engaging, and resolutely accurate about the urban realities it depicts. I recognized this world." ―Jill Leovy, author of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
"Forman's compassionate narrative interweaves the complexities of racial and class dynamics, especially in how African-American political officials, police chiefs, judges and prosecutors came to support the punitive policies that now ravage poor communities of color more than anyone else . . . [Locking Up Our Own] should become required reading for students, citizens, activists and policy reformers interested in excavating how our system of hyper-incarceration was constructed incrementally over decades." ―Alex Mikulich, America
"Locking Up Our Own is a pathbreaking examination of the ways that, over the past half century, African American policymakers, social justice activists, jurists, prosecutors, police officials, and ordinary folk have thought about and grappled with the administration of criminal justice. It is vivid, accessible, and full of illuminating insights. It is a brilliant distillation of deep research, disciplined thoughtfulness, and moral passion. In ongoing discussions about crime and justice in America, particularly its racial dimensions, no book will be more essential than Locking Up Our Own.” ―Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and author of For Discrimination and Race, Crime, and the Law
"James Forman Jr. tells the fascinating story of mass incarceration from the ground up. We see the heartbreaking stories of young people whose life prospects are diminished through tough-on-crime policies, the leaders in the black community whose limited choices led to support for harsh punishments, and the ways in which the legacy of racism still frames outcomes in the twenty-first century. Locking Up Our Own helps us to understand how the prison population exploded and what we need to do to create a more compassionate approach to crime and justice." ―Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project and author of Race to Incarcerate