In the spring of 2010, a sixteen-year-old by the name of Kalief Browder was arrested in the Bronx, New York, accused of stealing a backpack. The next day, Browder received a court hearing wherein he was charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. Since Browder was currently on probation (he was given “youthful offender” status for an officer report of him taking a delivery truck for a joyride and crashing it into a parked car) he was ordered to be held and set bail at $3,000. He and his family were not able to pay it and, as a result, Kalief Browder spent three years at Rikers Island awaiting a trial that never came.
Browder’s family could not afford bail nor could they afford to hire an attorney, so they received a court appointed public defender. Even with what the assistant district attorney handling the prosecution later acknowledged in court papers was a “relatively straightforward case,” the backlogged and underfunded Bronx court system was not able to guarantee Browder his right to a speedy and public trial. He spent two of his three years at the notoriously violent, decrepit, and ghoulish jail of Rikers Island in solitary confinement, where even there Browder was not safe from harassment. When Browder was finally released – after numerous motions and court dates – he experienced severe depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation, and suicidal ideation. He eventually committed suicide – two years after his release from Rikers.
Jennifer Gonnerman, “Kalief Browder, 1993–2015,” The New Yorker, June 7, 2015, Web. March 8, 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/kalief-browder-1993-2015
Student Researcher: Rachel Griffith-Chandler, Indian River State College
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College