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Written by Kate Lawrence Programming and Exhibits Manager, Main Library

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Justice, the United States incarcerates its citizens at a rate five to ten times higher than other countries in the Global North. 2.27 million people were incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country in 2017. This represents a staggering 500% increase over the last 40 years alone, far outpacing growth in both population and crime. African American, Latinx, and Indigenous people are particularly overrepresented in the U.S. prison population. 

Bryan Stevenson is working to change that. Stevenson and his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, are committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.  

The Library is proud to host Bryan Stevenson as our inaugural Mary S. Stern Lecturer, on October 2 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Throughout the summer and fall, the community is invited to join us to read and discuss Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice.



Bryan Stevenson 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 our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young African American man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.

Visit our event calendar for a list of discussions and related programs. If you would like to host your own discussion or learn more about the themes in Just Mercy, check out our resource guide.

After reading Just Mercy, plan to attend the Mary S. Stern Lecture with Bryan Stevenson, which happens Wednesday, October 2, 7 p.m. at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Tickets are $5 and will go on sale in early August.