A call for jail re­forms af­ter death

Fam­ily and New York of­fi­cials mourn a for­mer in­mate who com­mit­ted sui­cide. He was de­tained for three years with­out a trial.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Matt Pearce matt.pearce@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Mat­tDPearce Times staff writer Tina Susman in New York con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Ar­rested at age 16 for a crime he swore he didn’t com­mit. Charged as an adult on sus­pi­cion of steal­ing a back­pack. Three years in jail wait­ing for a trial that never hap­pened.

Kalief Brow­der spent two of those years in soli­tary con­fine­ment at New York’s no­to­ri­ously harsh Rik­ers Is­land. Men­tally tor­mented, he re­peat­edly tried to take his own life be­fore he was re­leased with­out charges in 2013 and be­came a sym­bol for jus­tice re­form in the na­tion’s largest city.

But even as a free man, Brow­der couldn’t make him­self whole again. It all ended Satur­day with his sui­cide at age 22.

Now, his fam­ily wants to make sure what hap­pened to him doesn’t hap­pen to any­one else.

“Af­ter fight­ing so hard to get out of jail — and then fight­ing on the out­side to restart his life — he ul­ti­mately was un­able to over­come his own pain and tor­ment, which em­anated from his ex­pe­ri­ences in soli­tary con­fine­ment,” Brow­der’s fam­ily said Mon­day in a state­ment.

“We ask the public to re- spect our pri­vacy dur­ing this very dif­fi­cult time, and we pray that Kalief ’s death will not be in vain. We ask that the mayor and ev­ery public of­fi­cial in New York City take ev­ery ac­tion pos­si­ble to en­sure that no other per­son in New York City will ever again be forced to live through all that Kalief en­dured.”

Brow­der’s sui­cide at home in the Bronx has sent rip­ples of grief through those who had be­come familiar with his case, which was doc­u­mented in a New Yorker mag­a­zine story in Oc­to­ber.

In an in­ter­view Sun­day, Brow­der’s at­tor­ney, Paul V. Pres­tia, said he blamed the treat­ment at Rik­ers for what hap­pened.

“I think what caused the sui­cide was his incarceration and those hun­dreds and hun­dreds of nights in soli­tary con­fine­ment, where there were mice crawl­ing up his sheets in that lit­tle cell,” Pres­tia said. “Be­ing starved, and not be­ing taken to the shower for two weeks at a time … those were di­rect con­tribut­ing fac­tors.… That was the pain and sad­ness that he had to deal with ev­ery day, and I think it was too much for him.”

It was Brow­der’s case that par­tially in­spired New York Mayor Bill de Bla­sio this spring to an­nounce a plan to speed up the city’s court sys­tem to pre­vent other in­mates from wait­ing hun­dreds of days with­out trial.

On Mon­day, the mayor mourned Brow­der’s death.

“There is no rea­son he should have gone through this or­deal, and his tragic death is a re­minder that we must con­tinue to work each day to pro­vide the men­tal health ser­vices so many New York­ers need,” De Bla­sio said in a state­ment, adding that jail re­forms were con­tin­u­ing. “On be­half of all New York­ers, we send our con­do­lences to the Brow­der fam­ily dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time.”

At a Mon­day news con­fer­ence, Melissa Mark-Viver­ito, speaker of the New York City Coun­cil, said Brow­der’s story was dis­turb­ing and showed re­forms were “des­per­ately needed.”

“It re­ally is a de­press­ing sit­u­a­tion to think that a young man sat idle in Rik­ers for three years,” Mark-Viver­ito told re­porters, ac­cord­ing to au­dio of the news con­fer­ence pro­vided by her of­fice. “He came out a bro­ken man, a bro­ken young man, and our sys­tem cre­ated that re­al­ity. We can’t walk away from that. So if this isn’t a call to ac­tion, I re­ally don’t know what is.... This is not just a New York City is­sue. This is a fed­eral is­sue. This is a na­tional is­sue.”

In De­cem­ber, the Jus­tice Depart­ment joined a 2012 class-ac­tion law­suit to force New York City to speed up re­forms at Rik­ers, whose of­fi­cials were ac­cused of tol­er­at­ing a “cul­ture of vi­o­lence” sur­round­ing its young in­mates.

A damn­ing Au­gust re­port fol­lowed an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that doc­u­mented hun­dreds of cases of young in­mates in­jured dur­ing each of the two years re­searched, start­ing in July 2012.

It rec­om­mended that De Bla­sio and city of­fi­cials un­der­take 70 mea­sures, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing cam­eras in ado­les­cent ar­eas of jails to bet­ter mon­i­tor their treat­ment. It also urged that puni­tive soli­tary con­fine­ment be ended for most ado­les­cents, a prac­tice De Bla­sio or­dered halted in De­cem­ber.

‘He ul­ti­mately was un­able to over­come his own pain and tor­ment, which em­anated from his ex­pe­ri­ences in soli­tary con­fine­ment.’ — The fam­ily of Kalief Brow­der


KALIEF BROW­DER’S story is dis­turb­ing and shows jail re­forms are “des­per­ately needed,” the speaker of the New York City Coun­cil said.

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