The story of Kalief Browder, 21, is one of abuse, triumph and tragedy.
In 2010 at the age of 16, Browder was arrested by police as a suspect in the robbery of a backpack from another teen, Browder was locked up at Rikers Island for three years, unable to raise the $10,000 needed for bail. After a long bout with depression and emotional trauma, Browder committed suicide this past weekend.
Browder’s life became a living nightmare while he awaited trial. He endured countless beatings, not only from inmates but also from corrections officers. The abuse was not only physical but also mental and emotional as he spent at least 400 days in solitary confinement. His case raised national outcries for leniency and prison reform not only for Browder, but also for the multitude of other teenagers who are placed in solitary confinement for long periods of time.
In January 2015. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio prohibited the solitary confinement of inmates under the age of 21 agreeing that the practice was too harsh and inflicted long-term emotional and physical damage. In 2013, after three years in prison, Browder was released when all charges were dropped. But the damage had already been done to Browder. He attempted suicide several times and once tried to hang himself in his cell with his bed sheet tied to a light fixture. Despite celebrity encounters and support from Jay Z, Rosie O’Donnell and Rand Paul, Browder just could not escape the emotional trauma of his incarceration. This past Friday night he reportedly told his mother, “Ma, I can’t take it anymore” and on Saturday he hung himself by using an air conditioning cord.
The story of Kalief Browder is not an isolated case in this country. The inability to afford bail even if you are innocent creates a hardship and undeserved incarceration. Many times prosecutors are aware that charges against an individual may be weak and without merit. But because of the atmosphere of getting a conviction at all costs, prosecutors will allow a person to spend excessive time in jail in an effort to coerce defendants to agree to a plea deal. Even if no investigation has been done, the incarcerated individual is innocent. Prosecutors are fully aware of the horrors of prison and count on these horrors to wear a person down,
The current school-to-prison pipeline makes the situation even more tragic when Black youth are five times more likely to be incarcerated than White youths, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The number of juveniles in youth detention centers in 2010 was estimated to be approximately 70,800. It is estimated that close to 40 percent of that number are jailed in for profit facilities. There are many others like Kalief Browder in America’s correctional system. The question is how many more will meet a tragic death awaiting juvenile prison reform?