2021 Equity Challenge Day 14: Injustice in the Justice System

The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated and the condemned.

Bryan Stevenson

Human rights lawyer and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative

Over the past 40 years, the United States has increased the number of incarcerated citizens by over 500 percent to 2.2 million people — the largest prison population in the world. This increase, referred to widely as mass incarceration, has not affected all communities equally. People who are poor and people of color are more likely to be arrested, convicted and harshly sentenced. Consider these statistics from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI):

  • The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its incarcerated population.
  • Our spending on jails and prisons reached $87 billion in 2015, an increase of 1000 percent from the $7.4 billion spent in 1975.
  • From 1980 to 2017, the number of women in jails and prisons in the US grew 750 percent. More than 225,000 women are incarcerated today.

Ending Mass Incarceration writes, “In no area of American society are the legacies of slavery and racism more evident than in the criminal legal system. Despite making up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, Black people make up 50 percent of the country’s prison population.”

Without adequate resources and access to legal aid or help investigating cases, many people charged with crimes face verdicts determined by wealth, not culpability. EJI explains: “The ‘tough on crime’ policies that led to mass incarceration are rooted in the belief that Black and brown people are inherently guilty and dangerous—and that belief still drives excessive sentencing policies today.” Moreover, mass incarceration has damaging effects on millions of American families, renders null millions of people’s constitutional right to vote and stunts national economic growth. Today’s challenge explores the intersection of race and mass incarceration — and how we as a nation can move toward true liberty and justice for all.



Learn about criminal justice facts and statistics through this infographic. (5 minutes)

Take a look at these charts on incarceration rates in Michigan and the racial disparities that show up. (5 minutes)

Learn how the Clean Slate Michigan bill is an important step toward fixing Michigan’s incarceration problem. (4 minutes)


Watch this powerful, engaging TED Talk on injustice from human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson. (23 minutes)

Watch this video explaining the school-to-prison pipeline. (3 minutes)

Reflect And Share:

  1. Which of today’s resources was most impactful in helping you think differently about inequity and mass incarceration? Why?
  2. What material from today do you still have questions about or want to learn more about? What are ways you can further explore those questions?
  3. How might reforming injustices in the criminal justice system create equity in Southeastern Michigan?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hastag #EquityChallenge or #TakeTheEC21