Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Bryan Stevenson

A powerful, bold true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix America’s broken system of justice - from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 in the early 1970s to more than two million now. One in every 15 people is expected to go to prison. For black men, the most incarcerated group in America, this figure rises to one out of every three.

Bryan Stevenson grew up a member of a poor black community in the racially segregated South. He was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of the US’s criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young black man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, startling racial inequality, and legal brinksmanship - and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.  Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted lawyer’s coming of age, a moving portrait of the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.

‘Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.’ John Grisham

Review

For advocates of social justice Just Mercy presents a scathing exposé of the inequalities, racial bias and discrimination that has characterised the US justice system, most notably in the South. It documents the indefatigable dedication of social justice lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder of the New Non-Fiction Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Lauded as a real-life Atticus Finch, Stevenson has championed the rights of the disenfranchised and most disadvantaged: assisting clients on death row, challenging excessive punishments, helping disabled prisoners and assisting children incarcerated in adult prisons facing life-without-parole convictions.

Stevenson presents extensive case studies that document inherent injustices sanctioned by law enforcement and legitimised through abusive justice systems within the US. Most notable is the case of Walter McMillian, an African American wrongfully accused of a murder and unlawfully put on death row as a pretrial detainee. As Stevenson worked on Walter’s defence he uncovered appalling lawlessness not only on the part of law enforcement officers, but also a grave miscarriage of justice through the court system. Stevenson testified that evidence had been wilfully ignored in order to expedite Walter’s conviction to appease the community with a crime solved and a criminal punished.

The statistics cited by Stevenson are damning. America has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with a disproportionate African American representation among the prison population. According to Stevenson the privatisation of US prisons has corrupted initiatives that focus on rehabilitation and instead contribute to mass incarceration. In particular, the pursuit of profit has seen the creation of new crimes and harsher sentences ensuring that more people are locked up and for longer terms.

Stevenson’s legacy is not limited to his successes in achieving landmark social justice reform but also his reputation as a crusader of mercy and compassion. A profoundly important work.


Natalie Platten works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern.

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