To Be Read (And Watched): Just Mercy Challenges the Broken Justice System in America

Picture of Bryan Stevenson, courtesy the LBJ Library

The prison system and mass incarceration in the United States has received a lot of criticism from many people across the world and within the country. Just Mercy is the non-fiction account of Bryan Stevenson’s life as a lawyer, working to help those most in need in prisons, such as the wrongly condemned. Stevenson founded the EJI,  the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that provides legal representation for people who may have been wrongly convicted, unfairly sentenced or been abused in jail or prison. The initiative challenges the death penalty and excessive punishment, while also helping the formerly imprisoned reintegrate into society. 

The book focuses mainly on one of Stevenson’s first cases involving the death row, the case of Walter McMillian. While that case takes the center stage, it also goes into cases involving the poor, women and children imprisoned throughout the country. 

As someone who doesn’t typically enjoy non-fiction, I was skeptical going into this book, however interesting it sounded. I was worried that the story would be bogged down with statistics and figures, yet I was pleasantly surprised. 

While there are a lot of statistics, they add depth to the story and allow you to fully understand the magnitude of how broken the U.S. justice system is. Just Mercy is a very poignant story about the people who are forgotten, the imprisoned and their stories. It talks about racial and financial injustices and the ridiculous sentences that many people receive. 

The book gives a look into the legal side of things and shows how hard it is to actually succeed in freeing someone innocent from prison and death row. While there are some successes, the book highlights the devastation and sadness that comes with working for people in prison, and the effect their sentences have on their families and on the prisoners themselves.  Although the book came out in 2014, Just Mercy is well written and definitely deserves all the acclaim it’s gotten and will continue to get in the coming years.

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Ella Terry is a managing editor for the Jagwire. She’s a junior and this is her second year on the staff. She is an avid reader and loves cats and all things Harry Potter. She loves to bake and is eagerly awaiting the release of Frozen 2.
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