NYC to pay $3M to family of juvenile Rikers inmate who killed himself

Kalief Browder's long detention in solitary confinement and suicide at age 22 made him a symbol of a broken justice system


By Karen Matthews

Associated Press

NEW YORK — New York City will pay $3 million to the family of Kalief Browder, whose long detention in solitary confinement and suicide at age 22 made him a symbol of a broken justice system, city officials said Thursday.

Browder was 16 when he was arrested and accused in 2010 of robbing a man of his backpack, a crime he denied committing. Because his family couldn't afford to pay $3,000 bail, he spent three years at the city's Rikers Island jail complex awaiting a trial that never came, nearly half of it in solitary confinement.

Prosecutors eventually dropped the charge. Browder was freed, but he killed himself at age 22 in 2015.
His story , first told in The New Yorker, prompted a wave of local and national reforms.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in December 2014 that the city was ending the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Former president Barack Obama cited Browder's case when he announced a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in 2016. Browder's life "was a constant struggle to recover from the trauma of being locked up alone for 23 hours a day," Obama said in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

New York has also been taking steps to permanently close Rikers Island and replace it with smaller, neighborhood-based facilities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo now supports a proposal to abolish cash bail so that only those considered a public safety threat are held pending trial.

Nichaolas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city law department, said the officials hope the settlement and the continuing reforms "help bring some measure of closure to the Browder family."

"Kalief Browder's story helped inspire numerous reforms to the justice system to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again, including an end to punitive segregation for young people on Rikers Island," Paolucci said.

Sanford Rubenstein, a lawyer for Browder's estate, called the settlement "fair and reasonable."

Advocates for criminal justice reform blamed Browder's suicide on his harsh treatment at the hands of correction officers, the clogged court system's endless delays and the psychological damage inflicted by prolonged solitary confinement.

A six-part miniseries produced by Jay Z and Harvey Weinstein called, "Time: The Kalief Browder Story," aired on Spike TV in 2017.

"I believe this young man, his story, will save a lot of lives," Jay Z told the Associated Press before the series aired. "What was done to him was a huge injustice and I think people will see his story and realize, man, this is going on."

Browder's death spurred his brother Akeem Browder to run for mayor of New York on the Green Party ticket in 2017. De Blasio, a Democrat, won re-election with 66 percent of the votes cast. Browder got fewer than 2 percent.
 

Associated Press
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