After being jailed for three years at Rikers Island without ever being convicted of a crime, Kalief Browder killed himself Saturday, according to reports.
Browder had been arrested at the age of 16, drawing national attention after The New Yorker published a story detailing his ordeal, in what many have called New York City’s failed criminal justice system.
Browder had been accused of stealing a backpack, charged with second-degree robbery in 2010, and ended up spending three years at Rikers while awaiting trial for the crime, to which he’d pleaded ‘not guilty.”
The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman reported Browder had recounted instances of being beaten by both corrections officers and inmates during the time he’d spent at the facility, as well as during the two years he spent in solitary confinement.
Finally, he was released in 2013, his case dismissed after prosecutors lost contact with their only witness.
Once free, Browder had gone on to receive his G.E.D., then continued to pursue his education at Bronx Community College. However, he’d tried to commit suicide several times while he was in jail, and told Gonnerman he’d never fully recovered from the experience.
“I’m trying to break out of my shell, but I guess there is no shell,” Browder stated. “I guess this is just how I am—I’m just quiet and distant. I don’t like being this way, but it’s just natural to me now.”
In early 2015, attorney Paul Prestia filed a lawsuit against the city on Browder’s behalf, claiming Browder had been falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted, and denied a speedy trial.
And, according to Prestia, Browder had been hospitalized for five days in November 2013 for attempting to commit suicide again, upon his release from Rikers.
“Every day was a struggle,” Prestia told CNN. “He lived with a degree of sadness every day since his release.”
Gonnerman also spoke of Browder’s deteriorating mental state, writing, “In November of 2013, six months after he left Rikers, Browder attempted suicide again. This time, he tried to hang himself at home, from a bannister, and he was taken to the psychiatric ward at St. Barnabas Hospital, not far from his home, in the Bronx. …Then, late last year, about two months after my story about him appeared, he stopped going to classes at Bronx Community College. During the week of Christmas, he was confined in the psych ward at Harlem Hospital. One day after his release, he was hospitalized again, this time back at St. Barnabas.”
Gonnerman’s profile of Browder’s struggle with mental health, following his ordeal, recently prompted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a plan to reduce the number of backlogged cases, as well as the number of inmates at Rikers, in addition to eliminating solitary confinement for 16 and 17-year-olds.
The mayor released the following statement regarding Browder’s death:
“Kalief’s story helped inspire our efforts on Rikers Island, where we are working to ensure no New Yorkers spend years in jail waiting for their day in court. 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. On behalf of all New Yorkers, we send our condolences to the Browder family during this difficult time.”
Browder had just turned 22, prior to committing suicide at his mother’s home in the Bronx on Saturday, and had been the youngest of seven children.