The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), based in Montgomery, Alabama, is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
This work continued in 2016.
It “won relief for nearly a dozen condemned prisoners on death row facing execution.” It “won reduced sentences for more than a dozen people who were sentenced die in prison when they were children” and it “continues to represent scores of other condemned juveniles.” It has “fought against horrific prison conditions and abuse within jails and prisons” and is “challenging the extreme sentences that continue to be imposed on low-level offenders and people who are not a threat to public safety,” In 2016 it “won the release of more than a dozen people who were unfairly sentenced or convicted” and is “continuing [its] work to reform the criminal justice system.”
EJI also has education and activism projects “to challenge America’s history of racial inequality.” As discussed in an earlier post, EJI has announced plans for a national memorial for victims of lynching and a museum on racial injustice.
More details on these important accomplishments are provided in EJI’s Annual Report 2016, which I received in last week’s mail, but which apparently is not yet available on EJI’s website.
EJI’s Executive Director is Bryan Stevenson, a powerful and dedicated lawyer, author and speaker, who meets the challenge that President Obama made to Howard University graduates last May.
I urge all citizens who are interested in criminal justice reform to support EJI with your charitable donations. This is even more important now when, according to a New York Timesreport, President-Elect Donald Trump has made comments about private prisons working better than government-operated prisons and detention facilities resulting in huge increases in the stock prices of the corporations that own and operate the former.
I was at the Forum yesterday and heard one of the most inspiring and articulate presentations I have ever heard on any subject. I was expecting to hear a detailed agenda for making legal changes in our criminal justice system. Instead, Stevenson delivered this powerful message to every citizen in this country:
Everyone needs to get closer to the poor people and the incarcerated.
Everyone needs to reflect on the history of racial injustice in our country and change the narrative on race. We need truth and reconciliation on race.
Everyone has to find a way to stay hopeful about changing this injustice. It is not easy. It requires a reorientation of the spirit.
Everyone needs to choose to do uncomfortable things. Go inside prisons, for example. The opposite of poverty is justice, not wealth. The quality of a society is judged by how it treats the poor.
Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which is committed to eliminating bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system. A professor at New York University Law School and a graduate of Harvard Law School, he argued for and won the historic ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. His new book, Just Mercy, profiles the lives of men, women, and children who are at the mercy of a broken criminal justice system.
Stevenson grew up in Alabama. He started school in a “colored school” and only after desegregation of his town’s schools was he able to obtain a high school education. His great-grandparents were slaves, and his parents daily were subjected to humiliation because of their race.
Thank you, Bryan Stevenson for inspiring and challenging us.
 An oral recording of the Town Hall presentation is available on the web.