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    The Death of Kalief Browder and the US Criminal Justice System

    Kalief Browder   

       “Kalief Browder died by suicide after facing traumas in jail as he was held without trial for 3 years for allegedly stealing a backpack,” Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) tweeted. “He spent 2 years in solitary confinement. Kyle Rittenhouse murdered two men and people rallied to help him make a $2 million dollar bond.” What does his death say about the U.S. criminal justice system?

    Kalief Browder and Cash Bail

        Kalief’s death points to at least two major problems with the criminal justice system, critics say. First, there’s the issue of cash bail. “Browder, like tens of thousands of other pretrial defendants, was incarcerated because he couldn’t afford to pay bail…in his case, $3,000.” the Observer reports

    The Observer continues, “Everyone who practices criminal law in the city’s courts knows that for many poor defendants like Browder, bail means jail…penalizing the poor with pretrial detention is the result of decisions by judges who could, if only they would, decide differently.” 

    Children in Solitary

        Second, there’s the problem of holding children in solitary confinement. Kalief’s case is not the only example. Tragically, there are many to choose from.

    The Marshall Project says “More than half of those [teenagers] who kill themselves in juvenile facilities do so while being held in solitary confinement.”  The Prison Policy Initiative reports some startling statistics: “While 14% of all youth under 18 in the U.S. are Black, 42% of boys and 35% of girls in juvenile facilities are Black. …American Indians make up 3% of girls and 1.5% of boys in juvenile facilities, despite comprising less than 1% of all youth nationally…”. In other words, a disproportionate amount of minorities are incarcerated. Many are in solitary confinement. 


        Kalief’s death did spark some reforms. There’s talk of closing Rikers down completely. The state of New York also reformed its bail laws.  But, as the Prison Policy Initiative says, much work remains to be done.


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