By Shannon Sampson
SAN MARCOS – Bryan Stevenson is pushing for reforms in the criminal justice system and spoke to a full house Feb. 5. His overall message for the audience: hope.
According to Stevenson, one in three black male babies and one in six Latino male babies are expected to go to jail or prison within their lifetimes. The Equal Justice Initiative is set to create more hopeful futures for these underrepresented communities than current data would suggest for them.
“We are living in a time where we need to create more justice, more opportunity, more fairness,” said Stevenson. “We have to do something to create a more hopeful future than this data would suggest.”
Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative works with individuals from low income communities to provide them free legal services. Stevenson and his organization believe that if outsiders are more willing to understand people within these communities then it will become easier to understand those who suffer from addiction, poverty, abuse and neglect.
“We’re not going to change the world if we are unwilling to go to those communities who struggle,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson suggested that to create change within the system there needs to be more awareness of how the system is run. From a legislative perspective, Stevenson said that the criminal justice system needs to seek alternative methods of punishment.
“I think we need to retreat from mandatory sentencing,” said Stevenson. “I think the impulse that was created in the 80s to mandate certain types of punishments, as if all crimes are the same, is a very misguided one. It’s created a lot of unfairness and excessive punishment and so I think restoring some discretion into how we sentence is going to be key.”
Stevenson offers up the idea that racial tensions in America stem from the notion that the country seems to have never recovered as a “post-genocide society.” Stevenson said that the demographic of the interior of the country was shaped by terror, and that terror has evolved to shape what America is today.
“We are burdened by this history that is weighing on us,” said Stevenson. “Our grandparents, great grandparents should have done something, but we are still burdened. There has been racial terror hanging over this country and we haven’t talked about it.”
Stevenson’s presentation was part of the LBJ Distinguished Lecture series at Texas State. His book “Just Mercy” is the university’s Common Experience reading selection this school year.
Featured image by Shannon Sampson.