De Blasio Misses the Mark After Kalief Browder

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De Blasio Misses the Mark After Kalief Browder: We Need Restorative Justice

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio's current promises to reform Rikers Island include moving 16 to 17-year-old prisoners to a new $27 million facility in the Bronx by 2023. This, if true, would occur nine years after his initial promise to do so.

 

The politicians currently in office seem to have more concern around creating more efficient ways to keep adolescents isolated from adults in these jails and prisons than examining the reason adolescents are in there in the first place.

 

Take the late Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old African American police snatched on suspicion of stealing a backpack, even though the police never produced any physical evidence and the witness statement was rife with inconsistencies. The only reason they kept young Kalief Browder on Rikers Island and finally had to release him when the case was dismissed after three years of serving time was that his family could not raise the originally set $3,000 bail. Many activists who have called for the closing of Rikers Island have labeled it a debtors’ prison because a very large percentage of the thirty seven thousand people locked up there at any given time are held for bails/fines that they are unable to pay while awaiting trials on charges for which they face mere accusations.

 

This is a travesty, due to not only the denial of those accused of freedom but also what they face inside. Adolescents on Rikers Island face violence from both adult prisoners and prison guards. Their only “safety” is solitary confinement, which the United Nations has deemed torture. All this led to Kalief Browder’s suicide two years after the dismissal of the charges against him. He had started attending college and showed all signs of success, but apparently could not go on after facing two years of solitary confinement and physical abuse at the hands of prison guards. After Kalief Browder’s death, President Obama forbade the use of solitary confinement for adolescents in federal prisons, but that wouldn’t have helped Kalief. This order is only meaningful for 8% of inmates in jails and prisons.

 

Quite frankly, if the city has $27 million available to build a new facility to jail young people, de Blasio should consider using those funds to build more schools and low-income housing and create more living wage jobs to help keep ALL people out of jail.


As a Green Party candidate for NYC Public Advocate, I would strenuously push for a dismantling of our city's flawed injustice system and work toward building a system of restorative justice for individuals accused of crimes. If elected, I would immediately order a review of all prisoners currently being held on Rikers Island for non-violent crimes and push to have them released on their own recognizance.

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