In what could be viewed as some semblance of justice for Kalief Browder, the young man who became the poster child for everything wrong with New York City’s broken criminal-justice system and its jails, the lower house of the New York Legislature recently passed a bill known as “Kalief’s Law” to ensure that persons arrested receive a speedy trial, reports the Amsterdam News.
The law is named for Kalief Browder, a then-16-year-old who was accused of stealing a backpack and who spent three years on Rikers Island, New York City’s notorious jail complex, because his family could not afford bail. Browder eventually had his case dismissed, but not before he literally spent years awaiting trial, with permanent damage done to his psyche and body.
In 2015 Browder committed suicide as a result of his ongoing depression from his experience on Rikers Island. In his time at Rikers, Browder spent more than two years in solitary confinement, which has been prove to trigger psychotic breaks and suicidal thoughts. His lawyer maintains that before he went to Rikers, the teen had no mental-health problems.
Last December, Mayor Bill de Blasio ruled that no 16- and 17-year-olds would spend time in solitary confinement. The Justice Department has also sued the jail and is advocating for significant reform.
The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution provides for the right to a speedy trial, but the Amsterdam News reports that in New York City, significant court backlogs lead to long delays for people who have been charged with but not convicted of a crime.
“Many of these people, like Browder, spend years in pretrial detention before having their day in court,” the News notes.
Glenn Martin of JustLeadership USA, a criminal-justice activist who spent time on Rikers and who is at the forefront of the fight to shut down the jail, had this to say about the lawmaker’s move: “The bill’s passage in the Assembly by the overwhelming margin of 138-2 shows that our lawmakers are finally hearing the voices of the many organizations and thousands of activists who have been fighting for a more just criminal justice system. We call on the Senate to take up and pass S.5998-A as soon as possible and make the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution’s promise of a speedy trial a reality in New York.”
The New York State Senate has until this Friday to add “Kalief’s Law” to the books.
Read more at the Amsterdam News.