Just Mercy | Bryan Stevenson

Summary of: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
By: Bryan Stevenson

Introduction

Get ready to delve into the shocking reality of the U.S. criminal justice system in the summary of ‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,’ written by Bryan Stevenson. This book sheds light on important topics including mass incarceration, excessive punishment, racial bias, unfair trials, and the unjust treatment of children, women, and the mentally ill. Throughout the summary, we will uncover the ingrained problems within the justice system that have contributed to a nationwide crisis of injustice and reveal the harsh truth that often stays hidden behind the façade of entertainment media.

The Truth About America’s Criminal Justice System

America’s criminal justice system has been excessively punishing people since the 1980s. The justice system started giving out extreme sentences for even minor offenses, which started the mass incarceration crisis. Writing bad checks that totaled less than $150 would land someone in jail for years. This change in sentencing and public opinion has caused the number of drug-related incarcerations to increase from 41,000 to 500,000. It’s clear that America is now facing a nationwide crisis of mass incarceration. America’s prison population has risen from 300,000 in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. This doesn’t even account for the additional six million who are currently on probation or release. That means that one out of every 15 people born in 2001 will be in prison sometime during their life. All of this added up to form a systemic problem that continues to impact and harm people.

The Racial Bias in America’s Criminal Justice System

African-Americans in America are more likely to be criminal suspects due to deep-rooted racial bias in the country. Shockingly, one in three African-Americans will be sent to prison in their lifetime, compared to only one in fifteen for white Americans. Unfair trials are also commonplace in the American criminal justice system, with African-Americans often convicted of crimes they didn’t commit due to the difficulty in proving their innocence. The exclusion of Black jurors from serving on juries is one such example of this. For author and African-American, the criminal justice system is a frightening reality. He shares his personal encounter with the Atlanta police, who illegally searched his car, and points out that his experience is all too common amongst Black Americans.

The Horrors of America’s Prison-Industrial Complex on Children

America’s prison-industrial complex is not only cruel to adult offenders but also to children as young as 13 years old. During the 1980s, children were often tried as adults, leading to harsh punishment in real prisons with a high likelihood of physical and sexual abuse. Prosecutors in some states, like Florida, have no minimum age requirement for trying children as adults. The book cites Alabama having the highest global instance of minors sentenced to death during the 1980s. Courts also sentenced children to death until the US Supreme Court took the death penalty off the table for children under 15 in 1989 and altogether in 2005. The author shares a client’s experience of spending 18 years in solitary confinement after committing a crime at 13. The book highlights the need for reform in the justice system to protect children and avoid the brutal consequences of being punished as adults.

The Injustices Faced by Female Prisoners

The American criminal justice system is known for its mass incarceration and unfair sentencing for the weakest in society. It’s not just African-Americans and children who are mistreated, but women too. Shockingly, the rate of incarceration for women increased by 646 percent between 1980 and 2010, which is one and a half times higher than men. Most women in prison are there for drug or property-related offenses, and they are subjected to extreme conditions. For instance, Tutwiler Prison in Alabama holds about twice the number of women it was built to house in the 1940s. Female inmates are often abused by male guards and subjected to grossly humiliating treatment. Until 2008, many state prisons even handcuffed the female prisoners while giving birth. The worst punishment for a guard’s improper conduct was temporary reassignment. Something must be done to address the injustices faced by female prisoners in America.

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