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Leading Idea from Bryan Stevenson's Book Just Mercy: Opinion Essay

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I am a sophomore at Grand Rapids Community College. I would like to address and discuss the topic of criminal justice reform in Michigan, specifically, raising the age for the automatic adult prosecution. I believe the age should be raised from seventeen to eighteen because the difference between an adult and a minor is not a thin line by any means. How can you compare a minor to an adult criminal if they can’t consume alcohol until they’re twenty-one or buy a pack of cigarettes until they’re eighteen? They also shouldn’t be imprisoned alongside adults whose decision-making skills are most likely fully developed. In defense of these minors, I would like to share an idea from Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy. It’s the idea that “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done” (Stevenson).

In Just Mercy, Stevenson dives deep into the triumphs and tribulations of working for his company the Equal Justice Initiative; a company that works on death row cases. Through Stevenson’s experience we see the harsh treatment these inmates go through, including juveniles who were sent to adult prisons. In the book, Joe Sullivan is a perfect example as to why the age should be raised. Joe was sentenced to life-without-parole imprisonment when he was just thirteen years old. Joe was wrongly accused of sexual assault and although he was still a minor, he was tried in an adult court and sent to an adult prison. There, he suffered a traumatic eighteen years of abuse and suicidal attempts. On top of that, he adopted sclerosis due to the rough conditions he endured in prison. Although Michigan may not treat their prisoners so harshly, Joe should never have been compared and treated as an adult criminal.

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Another example I would like to share happened this past summer in Port Huron, Michigan. Steven Breton, a seventeen-year-old, was arrested for stealing a bicycle out of a garage (Hutchinson). First, he should have been prosecuted as a minor, especially since it was a non-violent crime. Second, the immaturity of this seventeen-year-old is evident in the crime itself so if he was to be sent to prison it should’ve been a juvenile prison. Instead, he is being held in the Macomb County Jail (Hutchinson). I hope this story emphasizes the meaning behind “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done”. Yes, Breton committed a crime and there must be a consequence for his actions but was his punishment for the crime worth staining his record?

Again, I would like to ask you to raise the age for criminal prosecution. Seventeen-year-olds could still profit from the use of the disposition hearing in court just as much as sixteen-year-olds can. The benefits to this change would be preserving the minor’s ability to get jobs in the future and it could offer them a chance to learn from their mistakes on a smaller level.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I hope you will take this issue into deep consideration.

  1. Stevenson, Bryan. Just Mercy: a True Story of the Fight for Justice. Delacorte Press, 2018.
  2. Hutchinson, Derick. “Police: 17-Year-Old Arrested Minutes after Stealing Bicycle from Chesterfield Township Garage.” WDIV, 29 July 2019,

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