James Forman Jr.

J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law

J.D., Yale Law School, 1992

A.B., Brown University, 1988

Courses Taught
  • Criminal Law
  • Inside Out—Issues in Criminal Justice (joint seminar for YLS students and incarcerated men and women)
  • Access to Law School
James Forman Jr.

James Forman Jr. is the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law. He attended public schools in Detroit and New York City before graduating from the Atlanta Public Schools. After attending Brown University and Yale Law School, 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. In 1997, along with David Domenici, he started the Maya Angelou School, an alternative school for school dropouts and youth who had been arrested. In the decades since its founding, Maya Angelou School has expanded to run multiple schools inside D.C.’s youth and adult prisons—its success was chronicled in the 2023 short documentary film Welcome to School. The Maya Angelou leadership team dreams of a world in which no person is behind bars; in the meantime, they believe that everyone — including those incarcerated — deserve a high-quality education.

Professor Forman’s scholarship focuses on schools, police, and prisons. He is particularly interested in the race and class dimensions of those institutions. Professor Forman’s first book, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, was on many top 10 lists, including The New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2017, and was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. His second book, Dismantling Mass Incarceration: A Handbook for Change, will be published in July, 2024 by Farrar Straus & Giroux. Co-edited by Forman, Premal Dharia and Mario Hawilo, the anthology focuses on how to undo the damage and depredations of the carceral state.

In September 2020, Forman convened 12 Yale Law students and 20 first-generation New Haveners for a novel experiment in legal education: a law-student run pipeline program helping people from under-represented groups achieve their dreams of becoming lawyers. To date, over 18 program participants have been admitted to law school, including to UConn, Quinnipiac, Yale, Villanova, American University, Berkeley, Georgetown, and Western New England. In January 2022, Forman helped launch the Yale Law and Racial Justice Center, which brings together New Haveners, Yale students, staff, and faculty, local government officials, and local and national experts to imagine and implement projects advancing racial justice.

Professor Forman has received honorary degrees from Macalester College and Niagara University. He is a Trustee of the Council on Criminal Justice and a member of the American Law Institute. In 2023, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.