July 12, 2015

Kalief Browder: Tragedy In U.S. Jail System

by Elizabeth Renter – 7/12/2015

If you haven’t heard of Kalief Browder, it’s time you do. Arrested at age 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, a crime he insisted he was innocent of, Browder was held without trial at New York’s infamous Rikers Island for some three years.

His time there was unsurprisingly traumatic. He was beaten by other inmates and beaten by guards. He attempted suicide twice. His case was well-known well before it re-entered the news last month, and it landed on the front page again in June when Kalief Browder was finally successful in his third suicide attempt.

As psychologist Ayesha Delany-Brumsey of the Vera Institute of Justice blogs,

“Shocking, yes, but not unique. Kalief’s story reflects the real life impact of a justice system that sends the message that committing a crime—or even being accused of one—strips you of the privilege of being treated like a citizen of this country. His death is on all of our consciences as we have allowed our justice system—which is meant to deter crime, punish people who commit crimes, and then rehabilitate them—to operate in a way that degrades the people that we place under its control.

Many people leave our jails and prisons with a greater burden of emotional and psychological trauma than when they entered the system, which may contribute to why suicide is one of the leading causes of death after release from prison or jail.”

The effects of incarceration aren’t limited to adults, they aren’t limited to prisons and they aren’t short-term. To call them life-changing would be a dramatic understatement.

For more on the story of Kalief Browder, check out The New Yorker’s coverage here.

For more on how Community Success Initiative is helping the formerly incarcerated make their way once released, read here.