Meet the Teen Who Was Jailed at Rikers Island for 3 Years Without Conviction or Trial

Written by Nicole Flatow

A teen who spent three years in a notorious New York jail without ever having been convicted or put on trial is coming forward after filing a lawsuit against New York City. In June, charges against Kalief Browder were mysteriously dropped and he was released, as first reported by WABC-TV.

Browder was a 16-year-old sophomore in high school walking home from a party in the Bronx when he was arrested on a tip that he robbed someone three weeks earlier. He was hauled off to Rikers Island, a prison known for punishing conditions and overuse of force, and was held because he couldn’t pay the $10,000 bail. Browder went to court on several occasions, but he was never scheduled for trial. After 33 months in jail, Browder said a judge offered freedom in exchange for a guilty plea, threatening that he could face 15 years in jail if convicted. He refused. Then one day, he was released with no explanation.

“They just dismissed the case and they think it’s all right. No apology, no nothing,” he told WABC-TV. Now at age 20 with his teen years behind him, Browder is first faced with finishing his GED and trying to make up for three years of his teen years lost.

Browder says he spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement, was deprived of meals and was assaulted and beaten both by officers and fellow inmates. Browder attempted suicide at least six times. Last month he filed a lawsuit against the city and several agencies. The Bronx District Attorney’s office has declined to comment.

Browder’s story lays out a laundry list of some of the most prevalent problems with the criminal justice system. Browder was stopped in the Bronx, where the New York Police Department came under particular fire for its over-aggressive use of stops and unsubstantiated charges of “trespassing.” He was purportedly jailed based solely on one report to police, reinforcing race disparities in the criminal justice system. He was held in jail pursuant to bail policies that routinely punish the impoverished. And he was held in solitary confinement as a juvenile, even though the draconian punishment has particularly detrimental long-term effects on youths.

An internal review recently obtained by the Associated Press finds a spike in use of both solitary confinement and force by staff at Rikers Island.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Donna Ferguson
Donna F.1 years ago

I very much hope he wins his lawsuit!

Claire T.
Claire T.1 years ago

Let me guess....he wasn't white.

Lynn C.
Lynn c.1 years ago

Just reading this made me sick. I hope he gets a pile! God knows he deserves to have compensation for what he will never ever be able to recover and maybe, just maybe, it will prevent this happening quite so readily to other innocents.

Kamia T.
Kamia T.1 years ago

If he were sent to Rikers - which is a notorious gang-infested & violent facility, he was held in solitary as much to protect him as anything. But WHY Rikers? Surely there had to be a juvenile facility somewhere in the state of New York. People involved in the prison system become jaded to way too much if they remain for long. This is shameful, and I hope he wins his suit -- although that can hardly restore his life.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.1 years ago


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra1 years ago

Thank you ThinkProgress, for Sharing this!

Jean Duggan
Jean Duggan1 years ago

He lost his teen years.....

Trina Hawkins
Trina Hawkins1 years ago

This is so Discusting ! Not to mention Its the NORM now ! Sad but True ! The Justice system is NOT just ! Only if you have lots of $$$ and a GOOD Lawyer can you get out of jail ! He was a KID ! WTF is wrong with this picture ? I smell Not a Rat ,but a Bunch of them ! This poor kid was used as a scapegoat ! This FU%#ED up system locks up minority boys and men all the time ! Why? As my son's would say; for being Black ! No other reason ! When will these STUPID IDIOTS get their heads out of their asses and get the Real criminal ,not just someone because they are a minority ? God Help Us ! :(

Martin Hill
Martin Hill1 years ago

Oh my mistake! This is in the U.S.A., & there's me thinking this was in Russia or China.

Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez1 years ago