After 3 Years In Prison With No Trial, Young Man Takes His Own Life

Photo: Seth Wenig/AP Photo.
One young man's tragic experience with New York City's broken criminal justice system came to an unimaginably sad end on Saturday. Kalief Browder, 22, who spent years in jail awaiting a trial that never came, committed suicide at his mother's house in the Bronx.

In 2010, Browder was arrested for a robbery (nothing serious — he allegedly snatched a backpack) and put in jail on Rikers Island. He was just 16 years old. Browder ended up spending three years in jail, two of them in solitary confinement, The New Yorker reports, waiting for his day in court. His family was too poor to make his $10,000 bail, and his case bounced around endlessly in the byzantine court system, as trial dates were scheduled and re-scheduled. During those years, the teen endured abuse at the hands of guards and other prisoners, and tried to take his own life multiple times.

Jennifer Gonnerman told Browder's heartbreaking story last year in The New Yorker. On Sunday evening, she broke news of the 22-year-old's passing.

While it should seem impossible that a child would ever have to go through what human rights groups consider torture, it took Browder's story and a scathing Department of Justice report on conditions for juveniles at Rikers Island to prompt Mayor Bill De Blasio to order improvements to the city's prison and justice system. That report found corrections officers putting young prisoners in solitary confinement “at an alarming rate and for excessive periods of time."

When Browder was finally freed, he told The New Yorker that he felt destroyed by his years behind bars. "I'm not all right. I'm messed up. I know that I might see some money from this [suit against New York City], but that's not going to help me mentally. I'm mentally scarred right now. That's how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back."

In the end, tragically, his prediction was correct. Not even widespread public support — from anonymous donors who financed his education to people like Jay Z and presidential candidate Rand Paul — could undo the damage inflicted during his time behind bars.

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