James Forman Jr., Rethinking Race and Criminal Justice Reform

Published on16 MAR 2018
Making Progress Towards Racial Equity

Yale law professor James Forman, Jr., author of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, offers his perspective on the evolution and enforcement of criminal justice policy in the U.S., and the disproportionate impact it has had – and continues to have – on people of color.  

On how being a public defender inspired his work on criminal justice reform: “There’s so much stigma and stereotype and assumptions that we make about people in the criminal justice system... People get defined by that crime, that single moment in time in their life when they did something that was wrong and that was sometimes terrible, but was a single moment and when you’re a public defender, the thing is, you learn about the wholeness of people and the wholeness of their lives.”

On reforming the criminal justice system for both violent and non-violent offenders: “Behind every label there's a story... That’s why I resist any kind of reform efforts that categorically applies a label to a group of people and says, ‘Okay, we're not going to include you. When we're talking about a more humane justice system, we're not talking about you.’ And so much of our legislative effort has taken that and so that's what I'm fighting against.”

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