Criminal Justice Reform and Forgiveness Book List from Forgive Everyone Co.

Updated: May 3

I put together this book list to share with others some of the most influential books in my life that have painted radically moving pictures of forgiveness, criminal justice, and their possible and practical intersection.

Many people ask for book recommendations to begin learning about the brokenness of the system. There are so many books, and this list barely scratches the surface. However, the goal of the list is to match books showing the abject brokenness of our current system with books that inspire a hope in the future and establish paths forward.


I hope you enjoy reading these works as much as I have.


Note: When you use the links in this posting to buy the books from Amazon, we get a kick back of the sale to support our continued advocacy work. Thank you for your support and happy reading.


Strength to Love

Martin Luther King Jr.


This book was one of, if not the biggest influences in the starting Forgive Everyone Co. It put words to a framework already in our heads that views every human being as valuable. It lays out the full philosophies of loving our enemies, and holds the humanity of both the oppressed and the oppressors, people that cause harm and people that have been harmed, equally. While it approaches many of these concepts from a Christian point of view, as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a outspoken Christian himself, everyone, regardless of religious background or affiliation will come away from this book with a radical sense of hope for a new picture of justice, equity, and reform.


Coretta Scott King writes: "If there is one book Martin Luther King, Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.""I believe it is because this book best explains the central element of Martin Luther King, Jr.' s philosophy of nonviolence: His belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life. That insight, luminously conveyed in this classic text, here presented in a new and attractive edition, hints at the personal transformation at the root of social justice: By reaching into and beyond ourselves and tapping the transcendent moral ethic of love, we shall overcome these evils."

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.



Just Mercy

Bryan Stevenson


A champion of incarcerated rights, Stevenson lays out his work in assisting individuals on death row in this autobiographical piece. The first time I read this book I was on a plane flying across the country to visit family. There were multiple times I had to close the book and set it on the tray table in front of me as tears welled up in my eyes. When reading this book, which documents his fight to get an innocent man, among many other people, off of death row, it is nearly impossible to keep composure as feelings of deep sadness & hatred of injustice are paired with an overwhelming sense of hope for the future and joy that there are people like Stevenson doing the work. Bryan Stevenson echoes our exact feelings behind this company when he says “I believe that each person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done”. My hope is that when you finish this book you will believe the same thing as strongly as both Stevenson and I do, if you don’t already.


From the Bio: “Bryan Stevenson 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 our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young 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, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

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

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.


Incarceration Nations

Bas Dresinger


This book provides a startling look at how prison systems around the world compare. From restorative justice based systems like Rwanda, post genocide, and South Africa, post-apartheid, to Norway’s beautifully and equitably laid out system, this book gives a picture of what incarceration has looked like and could look like. This book inspires hope and provides framework for change. Too often people seem content with the system in the United States as it is, simply because they cannot picture the alternatives. This book provides insight into those alternatives.


From the summary: “Beginning in Africa and ending in Europe, Incarceration Nations is a first-person odyssey through the prison systems of the world. Professor, journalist, and founder of the Prison-to-College-Pipeline program, Dreisinger looks into the human stories of incarcerated men and women and those who imprison them, creating a jarring, poignant view of a world to which most are denied access, and a rethinking of one of America's most far-reaching global exports: the modern prison complex. From serving as a restorative justice facilitator in a notorious South African prison and working with genocide survivors in Rwanda, to launching a creative writing class in an overcrowded Ugandan prison and coordinating a drama workshop for women prisoners in Thailand, Dreisinger examines the world behind bars with equal parts empathy and intellect. She journeys to Jamaica to visit a prison music program, to Singapore to learn about approaches to prisoner reentry, to Australia to grapple with the bottom line of private prisons, to a federal supermax in Brazil to confront the horrors of solitary confinement, and finally to the so-called model prisons of Norway. Incarceration Nations concludes with climactic lessons about the past, present, and future of justice.”

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.


Rethinking Incarceration

Dominique Gilliard


Dominique Gilliard is a man I had the honor of hearing speak at an incarceration conference in here Grand Rapids, MI. His book Rethinking Incarceration gives a Christian viewpoint on the incarceration system and its brokenness. However, his critical analysis of the intersectionality of incarceration with race, poverty, policing, etc. will keep the attention of any reader, regardless of faith background. He makes a strong case for a variety of alternatives to incarceration. Like the other books on this list, this book is hope focused and shows the light at the end of the tunnel to pursue in our fight for justice.


From the summary: “The United States has more people locked up in jails, prisons, and detention centers than any other country in the history of the world. Mass incarceration has become a lucrative industry, and the criminal justice system is plagued with bias and unjust practices. And the church has unwittingly contributed to the problem. Dominique Gilliard explores the history and foundation of mass incarceration, examining Christianity’s role in its evolution and expansion. He then shows how Christians can pursue justice that restores and reconciles, offering creative solutions and highlighting innovative interventions. The church has the power to help transform our criminal justice system. Discover how you can participate in the restorative justice needed to bring authentic rehabilitation, lasting transformation, and healthy reintegration to this broken system.”

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Michelle Alexander


No book list on Criminal Justice Reform would be complete without The New Jim Crow written by Michelle Alexander. This landmark book which came out in 2012 was key in bringing the long-term conversations around mass incarceration and the racism intertwined in it to the forefront of the public eye. 8 years later and it remains a key piece of academic and emotional literature that unabashedly shows the brokenness and racism in the current prison system, while breaking down the history of how it got to the point it is at today. This is a must read on the list.


From the summary: Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.


No Future Without Forgiveness

Desmond Tutu


No Future Without Forgiveness, written by Desmond Tutu follows his role in moving South Africa forward post-apartheid. Tutu’s take on radical forgiveness is convicting, and urges the readers to look inward and examine their own motivations and feelings towards injustice. Tutu lays out both the horrors of apartheid and the healing that has been brought to South Africa through forgiveness, particularly through restorative practices. It is a must read when dealing with the intersection of forgiveness and criminal justice.


From the summary: “The establishment of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a pioneering international event. Never had any country sought to move forward from despotism to democracy both by exposing the atrocities committed in the past and achieving reconciliation with its former oppressors. At the center of this unprecedented attempt at healing a nation has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom President Nelson Mandela named as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With the final report of the Commission just published, Archbishop Tutu offers his reflections on the profound wisdom he has gained by helping usher South Africa through this painful experience.

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.


Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

Martin Luther King Jr.


Another piece by Martin Luther King Jr, this book was written after the height of the civil rights movement, as King examined how to move forward after monumental changes had been made. Reforms had passed, the civil rights movement had won victories, but what was left was still a divided America with deep set hurt, anger, and hatred flowing through the veins of many Americans. From the justified hurt and anger of the black power movement, who had been denied basic human rights for generations, to the unjustified bigoted hatred of white individuals who did not agree with the human rights granted through the movement, King was facing a big challenge. He details out his vision of building the beloved community through continued non-violent action and reconciliation. King is among the greatest of those who have kept the fire of justice burning in their veins while executing the measure to achieve that justice through uncompromising love and reconciliation. Righteous anger at injustice, and unwavering love towards those committing injustice. Unfortunately, this is the last book King ever wrote before being assassinated for his beliefs.


From the summary: In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., isolated himself from the demands of the civil rights movement, rented a house in Jamaica with no telephone, and labored over his final manuscript. In this prophetic work, which has been unavailable for more than ten years, he lays out his thoughts, plans, and dreams for America's future, including the need for better jobs, higher wages, decent housing, and quality education. With a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, asserting that humankind-for the first time-has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.


The Little Book of Restorative Justice

Howard Zehr


From Howard Zehr, who is often referred to as the Grandfather of the restorative justice movement. This incredibly short read lays out the framework for restorative justice and restorative practices. Perfect for a short intro to imagining a world without punitive justice systems.


From the summary: This is not soft-on-crime, feel-good philosophy, but rather a concrete effort to bring justice and healing to everyone involved in a crime. In The Little Book of Restorative Justice, Zehr first explores how restorative justice is different from criminal justice. Then, before letting those appealing observations drift out of reach into theoretical space, Zehr presents Restorative Justice practices. Zehr undertakes a massive and complex subject and puts it in graspable from, without reducing or trivializing it. Topics include:

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.


The Big Book of Restorative Justice

Howard Zehr


Similar to the Little Book but more in depth, detailing specific processes such as circles, family group conferences, and victim offender conferencing/reconciliation. Great to get a further understanding and grip on how restorative practices work practically.


From the summary: Restorative justice, with its emphasis on identifying the justice needs of everyone involved in a crime, is a worldwide movement of growing influence that is helping victims and communities heal while holding criminals accountable for their actions. This is not a soft-on-crime, feel-good philosophy, but rather a concrete effort to bring justice and healing to everyone involved in a crime. Circle processes draw from the Native American tradition of gathering in a circle to solve problems as a community. Peacemaking circles are used in neighborhoods, in schools, in the workplace, and in social services to support victims of all kinds, resolve behavior problems, and create positive climates.

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.



The Sunflower

Simon Wiesenthal


The last book on our list is The Sunflower, by Simon Weisenthal. It is a gut wrenching piece following his experience in the concentration camps as a Jew during the second world war. It details his experience of being tortured and seeing his loved ones murdered. It focuses on a singular event, when a German soldier on his deathbed calls Simon to him and asks for his forgiveness. Simon says nothing and walks away. He then writes his experience and sends it to leaders in thought around the world asking them one simple questions: “What would you have done?”. The book is comprised of the return letters from thought leaders of every ideology from the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu to Dennis Prager. As the final book on the Forgive Everyone reading list, it turns the question to you, would you forgive? Why or why not?


From the Summary: While imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Simon Wiesenthal was taken one day from his work detail to the bedside of a dying member of the SS. Haunted by the crimes in which he had participated, the soldier wanted to confess to--and obtain absolution from--a Jew. Faced with the choice between compassion and justice, silence and truth, Wiesenthal said nothing. But even years after the way had ended, he wondered: Had he done the right thing? What would you have done in his place? In this important book, fifty-three distinguished men and women respond to Wiesenthal's questions. They are theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, and victims of attempted genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, China and Tibet. Their responses, as varied as their experiences of the world, remind us that Wiesenthal's questions are not limited to events of the past.

When you use this link to purchase, Forgive Everyone Co. gets a small portion of the sale to fund our advocacy. Please consider using this link to purchase.

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