President Obama announced on Monday in an op-ed of the Washington Post that he was banning solitary confinement for juveniles in Federal prison. In support of his decision, he described the tragic case of Kalief Browder.
Kalief Browder, when he was 16, was charged with theft of a backpack. He was incarcerated at Rikers Island for three years waiting for trial. He was locked up almost two years in solitary confinement. After three long years waiting for trial, the charge in 2013, was dismissed by the prosecution. On June 6, 2015, two years after his release, Kalief committed suicide at the age of 22.
Before Kalief was charged with this alleged offense, he had only one other contact with the judicial system. He had plead guilty to unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and was placed on probation. Kalief, before the horror of Rikers had strong ties to his family. He was an average student at high school. The young man was known for his easy going manner and he behaved well at school.
From the beginning of his ordeal, Kalief insisted that he was innocent. A friend who was also charged with him was released pending a trial date. Because Kalief was on probation, the court ordered a bail bond, and the family did not have the funds to pay the bond.
During the next three years, young Kalief endured the daily hell at Rikers. He contended with the gangs and guards who brutalized the young inmates. The beatings were seen on camera and were publicized last year. One video revealed a prison guard brutally attacking the young man. During the course of three long years of imprisonment, without ever going to trial, he was denied meals, medical care,and he attempted several suicides.
Throughout his ordeal, Kalief Browder, insisted on his innocence. He rejected a plea offer from the government to plead guilty for time served after two years of imprisonment. Despite his living hell, the young man was not going to plead guilty to a false charge. Finally after three years of numerous court continuances including one for a prosecutor’s vacation, the charge was dismissed and Kalief Browder was released.
The three years of incarceration took a heavy toll on the young man. Browder struggled with his adjustment to the world outside of prison. He suffered from the effects of the brutal life at Rikers Island, and the punishing effects of long term solitary confinement. Despite continuing his education and working, he continued to suffer severe attacks of depression, and attempted suicide several times. He was a patient for a short period of time in a Harlem psychiatric hospital.
Browder told HLN in 2013,“Prior to going to jail, I never had any mental illness…I never tried to hurt myself, I never tried to kill myself, I never had any thoughts like that. I had stressful times prior to going to jail, but not like during jail. That was the worst experience that I ever went through in my whole life.”
It is anticipated that The Justice Department and the City of New York will complete an agreement this month on a reform plan that will hopefully end the inhumane abuses that have long dominated the jails at Rikers Island, New York. The city of New York had already agreed to discontinue solitary confinement for teenagers. Unfortunately, it was too late for Kalief Browder. The 22 year old hanged himself with an air conditioning cord at his family’s home in the Bronx.
It is estimated that almost 100,00 individuals, including juveniles and people with mental illnesses, are held in solitary confinement in the United States. The United States has the world’s largest number of defendants and inmates locked up in solitary confinement.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com