16-Year-Old Accused Of Stealing Backpack Spends 3 Years In Jail, Never Convicted
BY: John “Hennry” Harris
16-year-old high school sophomore Kalief Browder, of the Bronx, spent nearly three years locked up at the Rikers Jail after he says he was falsely accused of stealing a backpack. Amazingly, Browder never pleaded guilty, actually refused to plead guilty and requested a trial, even when pressured, but was never convicted and was only offered plea deals while the trial was repeatedly delayed.
Near the end of his time in jail, the judge “offered” to sentence him to time served if a guilty plea was entered, and warned him he could face 15 years in prison if convicted, but Browder still refused to accept the deal. The only reason Browder was finally released was because his case was dismissed, but the damage had been done.
Browder, a high school student, spent an unbelievable 800 days, or over 2 years, in solitary confinement, which is a common juvenile imprisonment practice that the New York Department of Corrections has now banned after several investigations.
How does a teen end up in jail for 3 years, of which 2 years was spent in solitary confinement, and never be charged with a crime?
Browder’s case highlights several broken mechanisms in the New York legal system that feeds itself to civil liberty abuses on our youth.
- The 6th amendment gives us a right to a speedy trial, but in New York they have a “Ready Rule”. The “Ready Rule” allows the courts to postpone trial dates by offering continuances. The system may give a continuance for 1 week, but logistically it may be 1 month before the trial actually comes to fruition and the still not convicted civilian only gets “credit” for the 1 week, not the actual time they have served. In Browder’s case, he was given an absolutely ridiculous number of continuances initiated by the prosecution which left him locked up because he could not afford the $3000 bail.
- Browder was a high school student and juveniles are supposed to continue their education while behind bars .. except for juveniles that are in solitary confinement. Guards would place juveniles in solitary and the schooling would stop relinquishing any educational support.
- While in solitary, Browder says that guards would routinely refuse to give him his meals. Hunger is a common complaint by teens that are locked up because of the 12-hour stretch between dinner and breakfast. Guards would use starve tactics at their discretion for punishment or their own personal enjoyment. Browder says the worst of his starvations lasted for 4 meals in a row, meaning he was denied breakfast, lunch, dinner and another breakfast.
- As it stands, the courts place people in these situations and it is human nature for some to strike a plea deal just to get out of jail. But Browder did not play into their game and take a plea deal, but maintained his innocence and requested a trial which came at a snail’s pace. This leads one to believe that the courts use this a planned tactic or procedure to play on human nature all in the name of getting convictions.
- The issues of using a Public Defender have long been recorded across the country. In New York, court appointed lawyers make $75 a case. In order to make money, that PD has to take on huge caseloads which leads to other problems. Browder, although locked up for nearly three years in Rikers, where his PD was located everyday, never once was visited by his PD or had anyone to advocate his case for him. This shows a reckless disregard which leads to a vicious cycle of apathy that often leads innocent people to copping pleas or getting longer sentences.
Kalief Browder has now been free for 16 months and is filing a civil suit against New York City but he will never be the same. All of that time in solitary confinement has changed him. When his friends and family try to get him to venture out and have fun, he chooses to shut the door to his room and recreate the solitary confinement he experienced. He has been institutionalized and a product of a broken system.
This must stop now !!
The Rikers Island jail complex in Bronx, NY is a ten building complex that was named in May 2013 “one of the 10 worst prisons in the United States”, according to Mother Jones. What is amazing about this distinction is that Rikers Island actually is not a prison, but a jail, where reportedly 85% of the inmates are legally still considered innocent because the technically have not been convicted for a crime and they are being housed until they receive sentencing or charges.
Rikers Island is an especially broken institution when it comes to its adolescent population, who are subject to many proven atrocities such as beatings, starvings and putting 16/17-year-olds in solitary confinements, often producing even more broken individuals than they were when they entered.
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