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The Price of Innocence

March 15, 2017

 

     In the spring of 2010, Kalief Browder, 16 years old, was arrested in New York for stealing a backpack.  Kalief was taken to Rikers Island, a notoriously corrupt and dangerous facility.  He steadfastly maintained his innocence, and refused to plead guilty, even when it would have resulted in his release.  At the time of his arrest, he was on juvenile probation for a “joy-riding” incident, in which his friends jumped in a delivery truck, took off and crashed it.  Because of this, he was denied bond for the backpack incident. 

 

     This boy, and yes he was a boy, spent three years imprisoned on Rikers Island waiting for trial, and over 400 of those days in solitary confinement.  He entered Rikers at 16, and exited at 20 years old, having attempted suicide several times, and only after the case was dismissed.

 

     Kalief never fully recovered from his ordeal.  He spent hours alone in his bedroom with the door closed, tried and failed to complete classes in community college, spent time in psychiatric care, and attempted suicide at least once before he was successful in June 2015.  His mother found him hanging out of a second floor window of their home.   

 

     The criminal justice system killed Kalief, and the great, tragic irony is that it did so even though he was never convicted of the crime.  Kalief paid the ultimate price for innocence—had he agreed to plead guilty, he would have been released.

 

     I was reminded of Kalief’s story recently because a new documentary produced by Jay-Z and the Weinstein Company premiered on Spike on March 1:  “TIME:  The Kalief Browder Story.”  See trailer here:    http://www.spike.com/shows/time-the-kalief-browder-story 

 

     Pre-trial detention is a problem across the nation, but only for poor people.  Those with resources can post bonds almost immediately and go about their business while their cases make their way through the courts.

 

     In Comal County, as of February 1, 2017, 222 of the 275 inmates held at the Comal County Jail were pre-trial detainees.[1]  In other words,80% of Comal County inmates are there awaiting trial. Watch for more on this topic.

 

 

 

[1] Texas Commission on Jail Standards – Abbreviated Population Report for 2/1/2017

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