Document Type


Publication Date





Disrupting traditional conceptions of structural inequality, state decision making power, and the presumption of Black criminality, this Essay explores the doctrinal and policy implications of James Forman, Jr.’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Locking Up Our Own, and Paul Butler’s evocative and transformative book, Chokehold. While both books grapple with how to dismantle the structural components of mass incarceration, state legitimized police violence against Black bodies, and how policy functions to reify oppressive state power, the approaches espoused by Forman and Butler are analytically distinct. Forman locates his analysis in the dynamics of decision-making power when African American officials wield power to combat crime with unintended consequences. He argues for incremental change focusing on discrete aspects of the system. By contrast, Butler offers a full conceptual attack on the oppressive machinery of mass incarceration—he seeks to break the grip of the systemic chokehold that threatens to strangle the life prospects of communities of color. Both books disrupt binary conceptions of the criminal justice system in the wake of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and its progeny.

Original Publication Information

Forthcoming in University of Louisville Law Review