African-American Teen Imprisoned at Rikers Island for Three Years After Being Falsely Accused of Stealing a Backpack

By Whitney Robinson, Associate Editor Vol. 20

In May of 2010, 16 year-old Kalief Browder was walking home from a party in the Bronx with a friend.  Suddenly, Browder and his friend were being stopped by police officers operating on a dubious tip from a man accusing Browder of stealing his backpack. Without ever having been tried, much less convicted of robbery, Browder ended up spending over 1000 days on Rikers Island, one of the toughest and most abusive juvenile facilities in the nation.  Nearly 800 of those days were spent in solitary confinement, during which time Browder twice attempted to commit suicide.

Browder was finally released in June of 2013, when the charges against him were suddenly dropped.  The man who had accused Browder of robbery had moved away to Mexico, and the prosecution found themselves with no witness, no evidence–essentially no case whatsoever.  Browder has since enlisted the help of Paul Prestia, a former prosecutor in Brooklyn, to bring charges against the city, the NYPD, the Bronx District Attorney, and the Department of Correction.  Prestia is alleging malicious prosecution, arguing that that Bronx prosecutors falsely represented to the court that they were ready for trial, when they never actually were.

Browder will never be able to get back the years that he spent in confinement, and is likely to experience permanent psychological damage from the conditions that he was subjected to at Rikers Island.  Hopefully his story will bring some justice to him and call attention to the need for serious reform of both the court and juvenile detention systems.  Read Browder’s full story in the October issue of The New Yorker.