I just finished one of the best and most important books I’m likely to read this decade, Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”, which was first published in September 2014.
In this book, Stevenson, who is “… an American lawyer, social justice activist, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and a clinical professor at New York University School of Law (Wikipedia)”, gives a riveting account of the American justice system which, according to him, leans towards (inhumanely) punishing the poor and disadvantaged.
It’s a memoir, really, one that in many places stays closer to true crime writing (with its peculiarities) than any autobiographical style, but his condemnation of racial injustice in American life and the legacy of slavery in today’s criminal justice system is compelling.
The numbers are there for everyone to see. No country incarcerates a larger part of its population (approximately every 15th individual born in 2001 will end up in jail). Of all black boys born this century, every third will at least be incarcerated once in his lifetime. The expenses for the prison system have risen from around 7 billion (1980) to 80 billion dollars.
What Stevenson shows is that the problems are inherent to the system and not isolated cases in which human error caused, for example, police brutality or wrongful conviction. “The true measure of our character”, he says, ” is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” Everyone should remember that, not only in the USA.
If you read one book this year (or this decade), make it this one.