“Bryan Stevenson is America’s young Nelson Mandela, a brilliant lawyer fighting with courage and conviction to guarantee justice for all. Just Mercy should be read by people of conscience in every civilized country in the world to discover what happens when revenge and retribution replace justice and mercy. It is as gripping to read as any legal thriller, and what hangs in the balance is nothing less than the soul of a great nation.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
We have long admired the work of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. So when we read his new book, ‘Just Mercy,’ we did not expect to be even more moved by the difficult path he has chosen: challenging the death penalty, prison sentences for children and the incarceration of those with mental illness.
We also did not think we could be more outraged by the brokenness of the criminal justice system, until reading Stevenson’s moving account of the men, women and children he has stood beside during his decades-long struggle for justice.
But most importantly, we did not expect to feel such hope — to see that with great personal sacrifice and perseverance, one person can and has changed the system.
That’s why we invite you to read ‘Just Mercy’ with us and then have a discussion about the important work being done by Bryan Stevenson at Equal Justice Initiative, public defenders in Memphis and advocates around the country. Pick up a copy at Burke’s Book Store or at The Booksellers at Laurelwood and sign up at the link below to have your book club considered.
We’ll choose one book club each month. An attorney from the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender will join your club to answer questions about the criminal justice system that Stevenson explores in Just Mercy and discuss what we can all do to make Memphis a more just community.
In today’s Commercial Appeal: A story examining the makeup of a new Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism.
A media release from the State of Tennessee acknowledges that the state’s sentencing structure has not been changed in more than two decades. Tennessee joins a number of states re-examining outdated sentencing laws, but today’s story in the Commercial Appeal reveals that some are concerned about which groups are not adequately represented in this reform effort.
The story, by reporter Samantha Bryson, looks at both the racial disparity on the task force and the lack of perspective from an important justice reform voice — defense attorneys.
“Only one person on the committee, Cannon County Public Defender Gerald Melton, currently works at the defense side of the table. Police chiefs, judges, sheriffs and district attorneys account for 18 of its members, who serve alongside other lawmakers and a victim’s rights advocate. There appear to be no ex-offenders or advocacy groups for ex-offenders represented. The group is also about 90 percent white and overwhelmingly Republican, in a state where 44 percent of its 30,349 inmates are black.” – ‘Haslam’s Sentencing Reforms Committee is Short on Defense Attorneys,” The Commercial Appeal.
Alumni magazines are often just that – magazines only alumni would read. The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphrey’s School of Law set out to do something more.
This week, the school launched its new publication, Memphis Law (ML). Dean Peter Letsou says the goal of the school’s new publication is to communicate with alumni, students, lawyers and other supporters. But Letsou and his staff had one more mission — to produce stories about the law that appeal to readers beyond the legal community.
The Shelby County Public Defender’s Office is proud to have produced the cover story for the launch of ML.
That’s the story of Abe Fortas, the native Memphian who argued the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), which established the right to counsel for all people facing incarceration, regardless of ability to pay, and spawned public defense systems across the country. Later, as a Supreme Court Justice, Fortas wrote the majority opinions in Kent v. United States (1966), which extended due process rights to children and In re Gault (1967), which provided children similar constitutional protections as adults.
Despite these and a remarkable list of other accomplishments, Fortas is but a footnote in Memphis history. You can read about his astounding rise to power and stunning fall from grace and find out why some believe it’s time to revisit Fortas’ place in Memphis history.
We also contributed an article about what the right to counsel looks like in Memphis, 50 years after the Gideon v. Wainwright decision. While that 1963 decision sparked a flurry of change in the criminal justice system, the resources to defend against three decades of tough-on-crime justice policies have not kept up. There is, however, a glimmer of hope that our country and community are rounding a corner in criminal justice reform.