At a time when the nation faces a crisis of mass incarceration with more than 2 million people in prisons and jails, the personal story of one Bronx man is revealing just how broken the criminal justice system truly is.
Twenty-two-year-old Kalief Browder spent three years in Riker’s Island, which has been ranked as one of the most violent prisons in the country. Reports show that of the 7,500 people detained at the prison, almost 80 percent have not yet been found guilty or innocent of the charges they face.
After an unjust arrest at the age of 16, Browder endured beatings, starvation and torture without ever being convicted of a crime. On his first day there, he was beat by officers repeatedly, many of which were caught on surveillance video. He was eventually released after the case was dismissed.
In June of 2015, Browder hanged himself with an air conditioning cord after he suffered from things like depression and several flashbacks from his imprisonment. His painful story caught the attention of many, including media mogul Jay Z, who collaborated with Spike and The Weinstein Company to produce the compelling six-part documentary TIME: The Kalief Browder Story. He has described Browder as “a modern-day prophet; his story a failure of the judicial process.”
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The first episode, which premiered on Wednesday, was titled ‘The System’ and displayed Browder’s fight for justice during his tenure on Rikers Island.
Here are five things to know about Browder’s story:
More than year after her son hanged himself, The New York Daily News reported that his mother, Venida Browder, died from complications of a heart attack on October 6, 2016. The 63-year-old mother of six children died at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.
While his trial was repeatedly delayed, reports state that he was offered several plea deals, however, he maintained his innocence until the case was finally dismissed three years later.
After speaking with a reporter from The New Yorker following his release from prison, he said that he saw another inmate in the jail for adolescent boys try to end his. “I didn’t see him when he did it, but I seen him when they took him out of his cell, and he had the sheet around his neck.” Browder also revealed in the piece that prison guards often egged him on to commit suicide and recalled one of them saying, "You might as well go ahead and jump, go ahead and jump."
In a headlined report by Democracy Now!, they called Riker’s Island a “A School for Suicide.”
During his time in prison, he spent more than 800 days in solitary confinement. His case drew attention to solitary confinement and last year, Former President Barack Obama said, “it’s increasingly overused on people like Kalief, with heartbreaking results — which is why my administration is taking steps to address this problem.”
“How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? ... It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity,” he added.
In 2010, he was sent to jail at the age of 16 on suspicion that he robbed a book bag. He sent 3 years at Rikers Island without ever being convicted of a crime.