Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Penn State Harrisburg Reads

A guide to enrich the campus experience of reading each year's Penn State Harrisburg Reads Selection

About Just Mercy

Book cover for Just Mercy

The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 in the early 1970s to more than two million now. One in every 15 people is expected to go to prison. For black men, the most incarcerated group in America, this figure rises to one out of every three.

Bryan Stevenson grew up a member of a poor black community in the racially segregated South. He was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of the US’s criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young black man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, startling racial inequality, and legal brinksmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted lawyer’s coming of age, a moving portrait of the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.

From the publisher.

Read the Book


Tuesday, September 24

Opening event featuring Raymond Santana

6:30 pm, Kulkarni Theater, SEC

Mr. Santana spent five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. One of the "Central Park Five," he and four other teenagers were accused and convicted of brutally attacking and sexually assaulting a female jogger in New York's Central Park on April 19, 1989. The group was coerced into confessing and were all tried and convicted, though no DNA evidence linked them to the crimes. Mr. Santana was only 14 years old at the time. He was tried as a juvenile and sentenced to 5-10 years in prison and was released in 1995. Seven years after his release, in 2002, a convicted murderer and rapist unrelated to the Central Park Five confessed that he alone was responsible for the crimes. Following this confession, DNA evidence was tested that tied Matias Reyes to the attack, and later that year, the Central Park Five were exonerated.

Thursday, October 24

Voices from the Justice System: An Ignite Session

11:30 am, Morrison Gallery, LIB 101

FYS Credit Available.

Join us for an Ignite session -- 5 minute presentations presented with automatically advancing slides -- that shows the many sides of the justice system. Presenters include researchers, practitioners, and formerly incarcerated individuals who will share their experience and knowledge about crime, punishment, and re-entry. 

Thursday, November 7

Helping Children Cope with Trauma

11:30 am, Gallery Lounge, W107 Olmsted

FYS Credit Available.

Children with imprisoned siblings, parents, or family members often suffer silently and face a number of challenging circumstances, including trauma.  This panel will explore the immediate and long-term effects of parental incarceration on children. Participants will discuss ways to support children in the aftermath of traumatic events, maintain a trauma-responsive school culture and provide needed services to at-risk children.

Thursday, January 23

Sarah Koenig, Host of Serial

6:00 pm, Kulkarni Theater, SEC

Sarah Koenig hosts Serial, a podcast phenomenon that tells one story week by week. Season One tells the story of Adnan Sayed, convicted as a teenager of killing his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Sayed, was sentenced to life in prison, but he claims he is innocent. Sarah revisited the criminal justice system in Season Three, recorded in Cleveland, OH. It follows the journey of the justice system for many people and how it does or does not work in their favor. The podcast has won numerous broadcasting awards including the first Peabody ever awarded to a podcast. Prior to Serial, Sarah was a producer on the podcast This American Life.

Speaker Information: Raymond Santana

Speaker Information: Sarah Koenig

Sarah Koenig will speak on Thursday, January 23 at 6:00 pm in the SEC Kulkarni Theater. 

Content and Support for Our Programming

Please be advised that this year's title selection and the associated themes deal with imprisonment, wrongful convictions, murder, sexual assault, and other challenging topics. Programming may not be suitable for all audiences. 

If you would like to speak with a counselor after any programming or after reading the book and associated materials, please utilize the resources below.

Book Chapter Sources

Information for each chapter includes links to reports and news articles referenced by Just Mercy author Bryan Stevenson within the text of each chapter, and provided in each chapter's notes section at the end of the book. Additionally, songs, pictures, news items, and other media are included for context when available and appropriate. For more information about the notes, be sure to check the Notes section of the book. 

Chapter Six: Surely Doomed

Chapter Eight: All God's Children

Chapter Nine: I'm Here

Chapter Eleven: I'll Fly Away

Note: The references for this chapter come from many small newspapers in Alabama. These publications are not available in the Penn State University Libraries Collection, nor on the open web. 

Chapter Twelve: Mother, Mother

Chapter Thirteen: Recovery

There are no notes for this chapter.

Key Information Sources

These databases, organizations, and other resources provide additional information about the topics addressed in the book. In many cases, these sources are cited by the author throughout the book, or were used to locate the sources cited. 

Nonprofit Organizations

Juvenile Justice

Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform

Death Penalty

Library Databases

Government Agencies

Data Resources

These resources provide statistics and numerical data cited throughout the book about the criminal justice system.

Alabama State Prisons

Government Data

Nonprofit Data Resources

Further Reading

If you would like to learn or explore more about the criminal justice system, we recommend these books. 



Children's and Young Adult Titles


Picture Books
Juvenile Books


Adapted from Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: Companion Books for Children and Teens from the Children's Book Cooperative


These podcasts explore the topics discussed throughout Just Mercy.



Reply All: The Crime Machine, Parts I&II

These two episodes discuss the creation and deployment of the police crime tracking software Compstat, developed by detective Jack Maple, an NYPD officer. Though the software started with noble intentions, over time, it has been used as a productivity tool that some officers say has led to profiling and other unethical police behaviors. Jack Maple and his effect on policing are mentioned in the Central Park Five documentary. 

Television and Film

These productions explore similar themes to Just Mercy and our speaker, Raymond Santana. 

Netflix Programs