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Kalief Browder’s Suicide Brought Changes to Rikers. Now It Has Led to a $3 Million Settlement.

Reposted from Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times

January 24, 2019

Flowers rest on top of pictures Kalief Browder at a protest after his suicide in 2015. His family reached a settlement with the city on Thursday.

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

New York City has agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit on behalf of the estate of Kalief Browder, the young Bronx man whose detention on Rikers Island became a symbol of the breakdown in criminal justice in New York and fueled the drive to ban solitary confinement for youths in the city’s jails.

Mr. Browder, who was 16 years old when he was arrested in 2010 and accused of stealing a backpack, was detained on Rikers Island for three years — about two of which were spent in solitary confinement — without being tried or convicted of a crime. In 2015, at age 22, he hanged himself at his parents’ home in the Bronx.

The settlement, which is cited in a court document, was confirmed by the city and the family’s lawyer.

In a statement, the city’s Law Department said, “Kalief Browder’s story helped inspire numerous reforms to the justice system to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again, including an end to punitive segregation for young people on Rikers Island.

“We hope that this settlement and our continuing reforms help bring some measure of closure to the Browder family,” the statement added.

The civil rights and wrongful death action is before a judge in State Supreme Court in the Bronx.

The family’s lawyer, Sanford A. Rubenstein, said papers would soon be submitted to the judge “to finalize the resolution of this matter.”

“It’s a fair settlement, given the tragedy of what happened here,” Mr. Rubenstein said. “While no money can ever bring Kalief Browder back, we hope the settlement of this case and the changes that took place at Rikers will result in this not happening to any other victims.”

Mr. Browder’s case was first chronicled in a 2014 article in The New Yorker, which described how he was beaten by correction officers, and endured repeated delays in the clogged Bronx court.

Mr. Browder also turned down offers to plead guilty, including one that would have allowed for his immediate release, as he insisted on his innocence, the article said. Bronx prosecutors ultimately dropped the case against Mr. Browder, who was released in 2013.

In December 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city had ended the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds. After Mr. Browder’s death the following June, Mr. de Blasio said in a statement that “Kalief’s story helped inspire our efforts” at Rikers Island.

“There is no reason he should have gone through this ordeal,” Mr. de Blasio said, “and his tragic death is a reminder that we must continue to work each day to provide the mental health services so many New Yorkers need.”

The de Blasio administration also developed a plan to move Rikers inmates under 18 to a dedicated jail for youths in the Bronx.

In 2016, President Barack Obama wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post announcing a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. In it, Mr. Obama cited Mr. Browder’s “constant struggle to recover from the trauma of being locked up alone for 23 hours a day” and his suicide.

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