‘America’s Mandela’ Bryan Stevenson calls for criminal justice reform

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Over 800 people waited outside CEMEX Auditorium for the 2016 Anne and Loren Kieve Distinguished Speaker Lecture on Wednesday evening. As the doors opened, 600 people flowed into the building; 200 were directed into overflow classrooms, where the event was streamed, and dozens more went upstairs to log into available computers and watch a live stream. But regardless of where the lecture was being watched, keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson’s message about race and the criminal justice system was loud and clear.

This lecture, a joint event sponsored by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE) and OpenXChange, marks the 11th annual lecture uniting leading scholars to discuss issues pertaining to race and ethnicity. This year’s distinguished speaker, Stevenson, is a pioneer in the field of race and ethnicity studies.

Frequently called “America’s Mandela,” Stevenson is the author of “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” and the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation to defendants and prisoners who are denied fair treatment in the legal system. He has seen the inadequacies of the American justice system firsthand through his work fighting unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners and confronting abuse of the incarcerated.

Stevenson addressed these issues in the opening remarks of his lecture.

“This country’s a very different place than it was 40 years ago,” he said. “Six million people are on probation and parole. The percentage of women going to prison has increased 640 percent.”