The Dreadful Criminal Justice System That Destroyed Kalief Browder

Three years in prison without a trial, often in solitary, contributed to young man's suicide.


Khalief Browder

Elizabeth Nolan Brown linked to a piece at The New Yorker this morning about the suicide of Kalief Browder, 22, who spent three years at Rikers Island, often stuck in solitary confinement, without ever seeing a trial. The journalist, Jennifer Gonnerman, originally dove deep into Browder's case back in October, and it's worthy of a read.

The thing to understand about Browder, as is often the case when we hear about abuses within the criminal justice system, is that his situation is not as anomalous as some people think. Browder is not really an outlier, though his case may seem particularly outrageous. The New York City courts have a particularly bad reputation for not remotely having anything resembling speedy trials. From a report in 2013 from WNYC:

Over the past decade, as New York City's backlog of felony cases has grown, so too has the time defendants are spending behind bars before trial. The average pretrial detention in a felony case was 95 days in 2012 — up 25 percent from a decade earlier, despite a drop in new felony cases, according to a recent report from City University of New York researchers. And some defendants spend significantly longer behind bars. Of the people who spent time in jail during 2012, about 3,200 were behind bars for a year or more awaiting their day in court, according to city data.

The context for that reporting was for the case of Donavan Drayton, who was arrested and charged with murder and spent five years behind bars before getting his trial. He was acquitted.

Gonnerman's obituary for Browder describes a man whose mind was absolutely destroyed by his experiences. After all the suffering, physical abuse, and delays in prison, his case was eventually dropped due to lack of evidence. The prosecutors delayed the case for years, and he refused to take a plea deal. Attorney Paul V. Prestia is suing over the case and told Gonnerman he believes prosecutors deliberately dragged their feet in order to try to get a plea rather than deal with a trial:

Prestia, in his lawsuit, alleges "malicious prosecution," charging that Johnson's prosecutors were "representing to the court that they would be 'ready' for trial, when in fact, they never were." Prestia said, "The million-dollar question is: When did they really know they didn't have a witness? Did they really not know until 2013?" He suspects that, as he wrote in his complaint, they were "seeking long, undue adjournments of these cases to procure a guilty plea from plaintiff." The city has denied all allegations of wrongdoing, and Johnson, when I asked about these accusations, said, "Certainly if there is something uncovered that we did wrong, I will deal with that here. But I don't expect that to be the case."

Of political note, presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) knew of Browder's situation and mentioned him in campaign speeches when talking about criminal justice reform. On Sunday, Paul both Tweeted and posted on Facebook condolences to Browder's family. Here's what Paul recently said about Browder in a speech in New Hampshire:

"So when you see people and you see some of this anger at people in the streets and you're like, 'Why are they so unhappy?' Think about Kalief Browder and think about how his friends must feel about American justice, how his parents must feel and about how his community feels," Paul said Saturday in Concord, N.H. "If we become the party that cares about the Sixth Amendment as much as we do the Second Amendment, we're going to dominate."

Since stories like Browder's and Drayton's have come out, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and chief Judge Jonathan Lippman have announced reforms to speed up trials. States are now also considering rules to restrict the use of solitary confinement, particularly on teens. Watch ReasonTV on solitary confinement below:

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  1. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and chief Judge Jonathan Lippman have announced reforms to speed up trials.

    Just plead out.

    1. works in china. confess and you get out in a year- make us prove it and you get the death penalty.

      1. It’s the American version of self-criticism.

        1. It is especially nauseating to see the “hard on crime” politicians responsible for our failed criminal “justice” system making hypocritical speeches in which they pretend to speak “on behalf of all New Yorkers” and the like. For some insight into everyday business at Rikers Island, see the description of the intake process there at:


        2. Gillespie says don’t discuss this:…..eason-com/

      2. Dr. Girlfriend: And these are our holding cells, although ?nterland must have much larger facilities, being a whole country and all

        Manservant: ?nterland has…no prisons.

        Dr. Girlfriend: How progressive!

        Manservant: The Baron has instated the death penalty for all infractions of ?nterlaw.

        1. +1 Monarch butterfly

  2. Every prosecutor who kept putting off the trial for years, every judge who allowed it, and every CO who participated in throwing this kid in solitary and ruined his life should be charged with murder.

    1. You forgot to include the 3 years of pretrial detention.

      1. I thought I did when I said the prosecutors who put the trial off for years (and the judges who allowed it) should be charged.

        Fuck all of them.

    2. Don’t all of these people swear an oath to support the Constitution of the United States? At a certain point, somebody had an obligation to just unlock the door for him and let him go…

      1. Yeah but they arent required to read it, how fucking stupid is it to swear an oath to something you didnt read and have to low of an IQ to understand

        1. Truer words…..

      2. “But, but, the bureaucracy can’t be responsible, bureaucracies aren’t people!”


    3. No. Wrongful imprisonment, 6th amendment violation, breach of duties, firing, fines, investigations into NYC procedures and incentives, etc. – all that I’m fine with for those folks.

      But we need to be fair here. You don’t want people to be able to be charged with murder for this kind of thing, when someone commits suicide. Remember the idea of ‘unintended consequences’? This attitude would inevitably be turned into a monster as it would be applied to dissimilar, unjust situations.

    4. Murder requires intent to kill. Technically manslaughter would be more appropriate. As this represents more of a negligent. homocide. But yeah, I would throw those assholes in the can for at least the three years they unconstitutionally incarcerated him.

  3. Don’t hold your breath waiting for any other presidential candidate to make a peep about Browder.

    It won’t happen.

    1. Actually, I disagree. Hillary is so fucking disingenuous that I can definitely see her suddenly trying to make criminal justice reform “her issue.”

      1. The only thing stopping her from doing so right now is that it’s not polling high enough. That geriatric twat would even turn against her wall street cronies if 60% of likely primary voters wanted to end corporate welfare.


    2. I sympathize. I don’t necessarily read the entire article before spouting off either.

      However, from the article :

      “Of political note, presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) knew of Browder’s situation and mentioned him in campaign speeches when talking about criminal justice reform.”

      1. From my post: “any other presidential cadidate”

        1. Not CSP’s finest moment, especially given the dickish tone of his comment.

          1. reading comprehension failures in service of inaccurate bitching about reading comprehension failures is as vital to the internet as ethernet cable and cat pictures.

            you would think every comment were fucking Walden as often as it happens.

          2. Agreed. As if to say, “Hey! guys!, here is an issue we can seem to care about that will gives us plenty of political pull with tha blacks!”

  4. Writ of habeas corpus be damned.

  5. End all plea bargaining and see what happens to your precious criminal justice system.

    1. From the original article on the subject last October:

      In 2011, in the Bronx, only a hundred and sixty-five felony cases went to trial; in three thousand nine hundred and ninety-one cases, the defendant pleaded guilty.

      It would be chaos. I wish I could say the prosecutors would drop stupid non-violent offense cases and concentrate on actual crimes, but I know better than that.

      1. The defense attorneys should conspire against the prosecutor”s office. No more plea bargains. Even if only half go along it will bring the DA to his knees.

    2. The fucking thing would implode in less than a year.

    3. Really. One year’s probation or roll the dice on six years in prison? The prosecutor’s conviction rate is what counts.

      1. Right ON the MONEY. Actual innocence or guilt – truth or fiction – they MEAN NOTHING before these americunt systems – broken and bankrupted of every value. I’m CURRENTLY LITIGATING A VERY SIMILAR TYPE OF CASE – and WOULD HAVE been a SUICIDE – had I not BEEN WHITE AND ABLE TO FIGHT because of that – ROR’d and FREE TO DEFEAT the CRIMINALS in the system working as PROBATION OFFICERS AND PROSECUTORS.

  6. If he didn’t do anything wrong, then why was he in jail? He just saved the taxpayers a ton of money by not having to arrest him and try him again during his next crime spree.
    /average voter

    1. Well, the article explains, in detail, what he did wrong…oh, wait, sorry.
      But it gave the report of what Johnson said…oh, wait, they didn’t tell you who Johnson was.
      I don’t know which was more of a miscarriage – this criminal case or the idea that this was any kind of reporting.

    2. Typical Florida TARD… Can’t wait TIL YOUR SON/DAUGHTER/SELF/FRIEND ends up merely ACCUSED… Cannot wait. You’ll WHINE AND WHINE… “oh THE SYSTEM…” Go hide under your trailer florida goober

  7. What happened in the late 70’s and early 80’s when NYC had twice the crime rate it does today?

    1. Rudy Giuliani fixed that by having the police crack down on dangerous minorities, I believe.

      1. Right, but how did they handle the court cases then? They must have had more than now. Did it take as long to get them to court back then?

        1. There’s no time for such foolishness, you idiot. STOP AND FRISK SAVED AMERICA

        2. I get the impression that at a certain point the authorities kind of threw up their hands. I recall reading that one of the things that set Bernhard Goetz off was that he’d been mugged, and one of the muggers got arrested, and Goetz spent longer in the police station than the mugger did.

        3. They probably spent the requisite amount of money on prosecutions, which is how law-and-order types do things.
          Now, the money needed is siphoned off on vote-buying schemes, as demoncrap politicians are wont to do.

    2. From what I recall, Wojo and Harris took care of most of the problem.

      1. You joke, but I used to see Abe Vigoda walking his stupid little dog on East End Avenue all the time when I lived there. And I can’t tell you how many times I would see or sit near Steve Landesberg in Cafe 79 on 79th Street.

        1. It’s sad that almost half \of the cast is dead, but we’ll always have Abe, Right?

          [Checks ….] Yes!

          1. Nice fishing, JW.

  8. Well he’s dead now so no use crying over spilt milk. Who’s up next, Johnny?

    1. yeah “At this point what difference does it make”

  9. But that’s the entire point of the justice system, isn’t it, keeping niggers from getting uppity and thinking they’re actually people on par with whites?

    1. race huslt ler! whit epeople get unjust parking ticket sso its the same thing! why do you hatew hite people?

      1. Leave the posting while fucked up on dimethyltryptamine to our dear friend Agile Cyborg, ok?

        1. censorship! youre ane vil commie!!a!

  10. Whenever I complain about the lengthy sentences attached to crimes, someone always says “Well, people usually just plead down, so it’s actually not that bad.” Fine then; how about the legislature changes all the punishments to which a person is originally charged to those for which they plead to? The more cumbersome the process and punishment becomes for the defendant, the more valuable pleading becomes to the criminal justice system as a bargaining chip. Don’t think reform will come from the “justice” end of things.

    I had a talk with the girlfriend a few nights ago about theories of punishment, and how restorative justice should be the guiding factor in all punishment, with all other theories serving as ceilings, not floors. It’s depressing how many good people think that the role of prison is to “keep the bad guys off the streets” and “pay back a debt to society”. Unless they’re serving a life sentence, the “bad guys” will eventually be back on the streets, and call me insensitive, but I personally was not hurt by the “bad guy” committing a crime. So please don’t include me in that Chicago deep dish pie of credit-wielding society.

    1. The thing that always strikes me as odd is the phrase “pay back a debt to society.” It seems to imply to me that the books will be balanced when the felon is released, but considering how difficult it is as a felon/convict to reassimilate into the world, it doesn’t seem very balanced to me. If they’re supposed to have paid back their debt, then why is it totally cool to discriminate against people who have a record? How can that be held against them (and resultantly bar them from so. many. opportunities) when they’ve “done their time”?

      1. I hate the system, so please don’t read this as a defence.

        The “debt to society” still makes some sense for discriminate against those with a record. A credit card company can check your to see if you have gone into “debt” previously, and deny credit or raise rates based on that answer. This is really no different. Someone who has “gone into debt” to society has more risk, just as someone who hasn’t paid their bills

        NB: I feel dirty writing such a defence. The system is as damaged at Leto’s Joker, and needs to be torn down. However, the “debt to society” analogy isn’t completely without merit.

      2. Yep. Punishment just shifts from governmental to social. I don’t like the San Francisco approach of not asking about criminal records, but I hope people will rationally evaluate whether someone’s past conviction has any effect on future actions, or whether it’s necessary to check in the first place. Of course, you could face a lawsuit for hiring negligence if you don’t make an issue of someone’s background. I don’t know of any fair way to limit social punishment, so it’s the government side that needs to change.

        1. I’ve hired people with criminal records before. I try to look at it logically. I won’t hire someone to handle money or financially sensitive records if they have convictions for theft related crimes. But I saw no problem hiring a fellow to write mirage loans just because he had a conviction for vehicular manslaughter. He still couldn’t dp drive anyway. And it didn’t interfere with him completing his duties.

          The problem is that too many people have an unreasonable prejudice that any criminal conviction invalidates an individual from all jobs. Ex-cons need jobs too.

    2. Up to this point, I’ve thought that deterrence is the only valid reason for punishment. Restorative justice…I guess, I don’t know.

      1. I think retribution is also a valid reason for punishment. Perhaps because it also supports deterrence, its not a separate reason.

        1. I think retribution is a valid limit on punishment. Something shouldn’t be a crime if there isn’t an element of wrong, and a crime shouldn’t deter past what someone “deserves”. So, no disproportionate punishments in the name of rehabilitation, deterrence, or protection for society.

      2. I think deterrence can be, but there are limits. After a person is in prison for six months, the deterrence factor goes down, as the person adapts. At a certain point, locking someone up for longer does little good, and any longer sentence has to be justified in some other way. Usually it’s justified through “retribution” or prevention.

      3. But punishment doesn’t work as a deterrence, according to all the available data. Or do you suppose good intentions are good enough?

  11. Over the past decade, as New York City’s backlog of felony cases has grown, so too has the time defendants are spending behind bars before trial

    An inevitable result of criminalizing everything.

  12. Incentives? What are that?

  13. theories of punishment, and how restorative justice should be the guiding factor in all punishment

    This implies crime requires actual harm to another.
    That’s just silly.

  14. How much was this down to mental illness? The result of a system that rewards the judicial system to find quick resolutions (aka plea bargains) before ever going to jail (never mind the fall even innocent men decide to ‘practically’ take) , the inability of the criminal system to handle the ever increasing incarceration rate, the targeting of minorities who often happen to be in the wrong economic bracket (who can afford bail)? The rich and connected who don’t have to care? Or society in general who demand tough sentencing and tough crime laws without ever understanding who gets roped up in the criminal system: cause once you make it past the ‘velvet ropes’ society kisses you goodbye……..stem-fail/

  15. thecourts MUST put in place a hard policy of bringing an arraignment within some short time.. thirty days? and at that arragnment the accused must enter a pllea… guilty or not guilty, and the PROSECUTION must outline the key pieces of their case IN THE HEARING of the accused’s counsel. In other words, within thirty days, both sides present the basic outline of their cases. If prosecution cannot identify witnesses and provide a rough outline of the expected testimoy, the accused walks free. THAT is the intent of “speedy trial”.

    1. Didn’t read the New Yorker article, did you?
      I had to go to it after seeing your post because in my experience an arraignment happens very soon after an arrest.
      He was arraigned and, because he was on probation, he was held, to be released on a bond of $3,000 – a $300 payment to a bail bondsman, that his family couldn’t scrape up.

      1. RetiredFire RAISES THE KEY POINT in all of it…
        I was put through a nearly identical thing to Browder – BUT WAS WHITE, HAD MONEY – AND HAD PROOF OF ACTUAL INNOCENCE…
        Which it took THREE MONTHS for me to prove before a criminal court.
        And even at that – THREE MONTHS WAS ENOUGH to WIPE ME OUT – money, career, family, home, etc.
        I was accused – ARRAIGNED 16 DAYS LATER – while ON probation…
        And at the arraignment I BLEW THE COURT’S MIND AND EVERYONE IN IT…
        An OC Probation Officer ANN PUTNAM – real slow dummy – clearly LOST in the weeds most of the time – She thought she’d get over on me BY SPIKING MY DRUG TEST WITH POT RESIDUE before mailing it out.
        And then the court ordered an instant read urine – ALSO fully negative…
        And now it’s a lawsuit that HAS MADE NEW NY LAW.


        And I’m the guy that’s going to CRUCIFY THEM IN A WITNESS BOX real soon…

  16. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,


  17. I still don’t understand why people can be held in prison for longer than 1-2 days without being tried and found guilty.

  18. Oh, sure, now de Blasio will work to reform the system he heads, as he’s got the death of a(nother) minority on his hands.
    Color me unimpressed with his professed sincerity.

    1. It’s all part of the greater good. After all, o devote resources to rectify this situation would take away from his Marxist agenda. And nothing is more important than that, eh comrades?

  19. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  20. The average pretrial detention in a felony case was 95 days in 2012 ? up 25 percent from a decade earlier, despite a drop in new felony cases, according to a recent report from City University of New York researchers.

    The Constitution provides for ‘speedy trials’. It’s the Judges and attorney’s playing ‘fast & loose, waiving a defendants right to a ‘speedy trial’ that’s the real issue here..

    Justice delayed is justice denied. http://legal-dictionary.thefre…..+Amendment

  21. Prosecutors can keep you in jail for years as a means of coercing a confession.
    The executive branch ignores laws and makes summary decisions to create defacto citizens.
    The Senate conspires to hide the details of trade legislation until it is passed.
    Cities restrict gun ownership.

    Does it seem as though everything the founding fathers objected to is being implemented 239 years later?

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