Jay Z, call­ing ju­ve­nile soli­tary ‘in­hu­mane’ backs TV se­ries

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - KICKOFF - By Mark Kennedy

Rap su­per­star Jay Z is help­ing shine a light on pri­son re­form by co-pro­duc­ing an up­com­ing TV doc­u­men­tary about a young man who spent three years be­hind bars with­out trial for al­legedly steal­ing a back­pack.

The rap­per teamed up with Har­vey We­in­stein to pro­duce the six-part “TIME: The Kalief Brow­der Story,” which airs in Jan­uary on Spike TV. It uses first-per­son ac­counts, pri­son footage and cin­e­matic re-cre­ations to ex­plore what Jay Z called a sys­tem that’s “bro­ken.”

Brow­der was 16 when he was ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of steal­ing a back­pack and sent to the Rik­ers Is­land fa­cil­ity in New York for three years. Brow­der was kept in soli­tary con­fine­ment for 800 days and, ac­cord­ing to his lawyer, beaten by in­mates and guards. He was never tried and was re­leased in 2013. He killed him­self last year at age 22.

Jay Z, at­tend­ing a press con­fer­ence Thurs­day with Brow­der’s mother, the film­mak­ers and We­in­stein, said he hoped Brow­der’s story “in­spires oth­ers and saves other lives.”

“I think it’s very clear that soli­tary con­fine­ment for a 16-year-old is wrong to ev­ery sin­gle per­son in here,” he said. “It’s in­hu­mane.”

In an op-ed writ­ten for The Wash­ing­ton Post, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama cited Brow­der’s “heart­break­ing” case to ar­gue for a ban on the use of soli­tary con­fine­ment for ju­ve­nile and lowlevel of­fend­ers in fed­eral pris­ons.

The Spike se­ries comes at a time when Amer­ica’s pris­ons are un­der scru­tiny. The harsh pri­son sen­tences in the Vi­o­lent Crime Con­trol and Law En­force­ment Act of 1994 have been de­bated in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and a new doc­u­men­tary by Ava DuVer­nay, “The 13th,” delves into mass in­car­cer­a­tion and its deep, his­tor­i­cal roots in Amer­ica.

Jay Z would not be drawn into pick­ing a side in the cur­rent pres­i­den­tial race on the topic of pri­son re­form, say­ing “it’s not a po­lit­i­cal is­sue. It’s a hu­man is­sue. It’s a story of com­pas­sion and em­pa­thy.” (He did in­di­cate some skep­ti­cism at the use of po­lice body cam­eras, say­ing “hav­ing a cam­era on some­one cre­ates more dis­trust.”)

Jay Z said he came across Brow­der’s story in an ar­ti­cle in the New Yorker mag­a­zine and reached out to the young man, even­tu­ally meet­ing him. “I just wanted to give him words of en­cour­age­ment,” Jay Z said. He wanted to tell him “I’m proud of him for mak­ing it through.”

The rap­per, whose real name is Shawn Carter, later brought the Brow­der project to We­in­stein, who said he wasn’t fa­mil­iar with the case. “I’m go­ing to be hon­est. I didn’t even know who Kalief was un­til Shawn showed us footage and talked to us about the project,” We­in­stein said. “Now I want to make sure every­body knows.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Shawn “Jay Z” Carter an­nounces the We­in­stein Tele­vi­sion and Spike TV re­lease of “TIME: The Kalief Brow­der Story” dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at The Roxy Ho­tel Cin­ema in New York on Thurs­day.

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