The Bottom Line
The American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes the poor, people with mental illness and people of color. It focuses far more on punishment than rehabilitation, devastates communities and leaves little room for equal justice — or mercy.
In 1983 Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law School student, was interning with the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee in Atlanta. One day, he was tasked with visiting a man on death row to inform him that his case had not yet been assigned to an attorney but that he was not at risk of being executed within the next year.
Stevenson was struck by the man’s gratitude for delivering the news and by his humanity. The two men then began to talk — and their visit lasted three hours, during which they discovered commonalities in their lives.
After graduating, the young lawyer founded the Equal Justice Initiative to provide free legal counsel to those most in need: the wrongfully convicted, prisoners on death row, the poor and mentally challenged. One of his first clients is a Black man sentenced to die for the murder of a white woman he insisted he did not commit — a case that lays bare how race and prejudice have denied many in our society from being seen as equal in the eyes of the law.
II. Targeted by Law Enforcement
III. Meeting Walter McMillian
IV. The Prosecution’s Case
V. Justice Denied
VI. The Long Arc of Racial Injustice
VII. The Age of Mass Incarceration
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