Criminal Justice

Youth who endured solitary and assaults while awaiting theft trial kills himself after his release

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A 22-year-old Bronx man who inspired efforts to eliminate solitary confinement for youths imprisoned in Rikers Island committed suicide on Saturday, about two years after his release from the prison.

Kalief Browder had spent three years in Rikers Island, almost two of them in solitary confinement, while awaiting trial on a charge of stealing a backpack, report the New York Times and the New Yorker. He was 16 years old when arrested.

Browder had insisted he was innocent and refused plea deals, including one that would have gained his freedom. He was released when prosecutors dropped charges.

The New Yorker had covered Browder’s claims of abuse by officers and inmates at Rikers Island, which were reinforced by a video showing an assault by an officer and a large group of inmates. He tried to commit suicide in the prison several times.

After his release, Browder got his GED and enrolled in community college. His story had attracted the attention of Jay Z and Rosie O’Donnell, who met with Browder. Rand Paul mentioned Browder in campaign speeches.

But Browder also experienced some setbacks on the outside. He tried to commit suicide in November 2013 and was hospitalized for psychiatric issues late last year.

Browder’s relatives told New Yorker reporter Jennifer Gonnerman that Browder suffered from paranoia after his release, expressing fears that the police were after him. Gonnerman told the Times that Browder “almost recreated the conditions of solitary” by shutting himself in his bedroom for long periods and shunning large groups of people.

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