A Heartbreaking Story: Kalief Browder, Jailed for Three Years Without Conviction, Commits Suicide

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Browder, 22, was held for more than 1,000 days at Rikers Island awaiting trial. His family couldn't afford the $10,000 bail.

Kalief Browder, a young man who was held for three years in New York's infamous Rikers Island, committed suicide on Saturday, reports The New Yorker.

He was 22.

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In 2010, Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack in the Bronx. He denied the allegations, and though police had no evidence, he was charged with robbery, grand larceny and assault. Since he was already on probation, he was placed in Rikers Island, a New York jail, for three years without trial—his family couldn't afford his $10,000 bail. 

During his time at Rikers, which has been at the center of arguments for criminal justice reform, Browder spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement. Surveillance video obtained by The New Yorker shows correctional officers and other inmates violently attacking him. Browder also made several attempts to end his life while behind bars and in 2013 when his case was dismissed.

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"People tell me because I have this case against the city, I'm all right," Browder said last year in a profile in The New Yorker. "But I'm not all right. I'm messed up…I'm mentally scarred right now. That's how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me, and they might not go back."

His family told New Yorker staff writer Jennifer Gonnerman yesterday that Browder was admitted to a psychiatric hospital earlier this year, but after his release, he had re-enrolled at community college. 

On Saturday—the night before committing suicide—he told his mother that he "couldn't take it" anymore, but she urged him to stay strong. She found him the following afternoon hanging outside by an air conditioner cord.

Browder's lawyer, Paul Prestia, hopes that his death will help push for criminal justice reform.

"When you go over the three years that he spent [at Rikers] and all the horrific details he endured, it's unbelievable that this could happen to a teenager in New York City," Prestia told The New Yorker. "He didn't get tortured in some prison camp in another country. It was right here." 

Our thoughts and prayers are with Kalief Browder's family.

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