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Lesson Plans

Bryan Stevenson on changing the criminal justice system on behalf of children

December 11, 2020



Full Lesson


This lesson is part of our Searching for Justice series on criminal justice reform.

Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. A transcript of the video is available here

Summary: Bryan Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. He is also author of the bestselling 2014 memoir “Just Mercy,” which details his work on behalf of those who receive unequal treatment in the criminal justice system, including children.

  • “I went to law school because I was concerned about inequality and injustice,” Stevenson says. “And it didn’t seem like those were priorities in my first year of law school.”
  • Stevenson helped to push a Supreme Court decision that prohibits sentencing children to death or life imprisonment without parole.

Thirty years later, he’s still at it. Along with his colleagues at the Equal Justice Initiative, he’s still taking the kinds of cases he documented in his 2014 bestselling memoir “Just Mercy.”


Warm up questions: 

  1. What are some of Stevenson’s goals and accomplishments?
  2. Who is Bryan Stevenson, and what organization is he a part of?
  3. Why does Stevenson think it’s important to defend those accused of a crime?
  4. When and Where has Stevenson argued about prohibitions on children being sentenced to death or life without parole?
  5. How does Stevenson see the criminal justice system as unequal or unfair?

Focus questions:

  1. What do you think Stevenson means when he says, “We are all more than the worst thing we have ever done.” Do you think children who commit very serious crimes should have the opportunity to become “more than the worst thing [they] have ever done?”
  2. After watching this interview, why do you think Stevenson called his memoir “Just Mercy”? What do you think “just mercy” means?

Media literacy: When you see someone accused or convicted of a crime on news reports, how are they normally portrayed? How often do you see stories about people who have served time for crimes compared to those convicted or on trial?

 Additional resources: 

  • This story is part of NewsHour’s “Searching for Justice” Series. Searching for Justice explores criminal justice reforms unfolding across the country, as the leaders from both sides of the political aisle attempt to end mass incarceration by rethinking laws that some say have become barriers to work, housing, and economic stability. Click here for more stories and the series and watch for more NewsHour Classroom lesson content based on Searching for Justice stories.