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Law Professor Wins Pulitzer for Book on Blacks and Criminal Justice System

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 19, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's not every day, or every year, that a lawyer wins the Pulitzer Prize.

The prize is known mostly for awarding excellence in journalism, although it also goes to winners in letters, the arts, and special categories. Rapper Kendrick Lamar, for example, won a Pulitzer this year for an album.

Yale law professor James Forman Jr. won the prize for something less lyrical: his book about mass incarceration of blacks in America. It says a lot about the times, and that is the real news.

"Dreary State"

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America examines the role of African-American leaders and the disproportionate number of blacks caught in the criminal justice system. The short of it: they share some blame.

"By exploring the decisions that many black mayors, judges, and police chiefs made -- ostensibly in the hopes of stabilizing what they saw as struggling African-American communities -- Forman shows that these leaders had a significant, albeit unintended, role to play in the creation of the current state of the criminal justice system," Yale News said.

Forman gained perspective while working as a public defender in Washington, D.C. He also worked as a law clerk for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"Clerking exposed me to the dreary state of criminal defense representation in trial courts around the country, and to the federal courts' lack of interest in doing anything about that," Forman told the National Law Journal. "Clerking showed me that to make a difference, I would need to work at the trial level, because on appeal was too late."

The Times

The New York Times, with 125 Pulitzers and growing, named Forman's book one of the 10 best last year. The prize this year seems to have taken him by surprise.

He said on Twitter than he was "still stunned and processing."

"My son, age 8, doesn't impress easily," he added. "But even he seemed moved for a moment when I showed him a list that had his dad and Kendrick Lamar."

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