TIME: The Kalief Browder Story premiered on Spike TV on March 1, 2017 and aired every Wednesday at 10:00 PM ET through April 5, 2017. The documentary series, produced by Jay-Z and Harvey Weinstein, follows the story of Kalief Browder, a sixteen year old arrested in the Bronx for allegedly stealing a backpack, who ends up in solitary confinement on Rikers Island without ever being found guilty of a crime. The series focuses on systemic issues facing millions of Americans in the criminal and juvenile justice systems: youth in adult courts, courtroom delay, solitary confinement, jail conditions, corruption, criminalization of poverty, foster care, and access to mental health services.
TIME showed millions of viewers the human cost of solitary confinement and made a critical political impact. Within days of the final episode of TIME, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced plans to close Rikers Island. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed legislation raising the age of jurisdiction for most youth in New York to eighteen.
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In May 2010, Kalief Browder was sixteen years old. He was stopped by the police walking home in his neighborhood in the Bronx because a man told police that Kalief stole his back pack two weeks earlier. Despite the accuser’s inconsistent stories about when and where this occurred, Kalief was charged with robbery and sent to Rikers Island to await trial. In New York is one of only two states that automatically charge kids as adults once they turn sixteen. Rikers is one of the most violent adult jails in the country. Kalief maintained his innocence and refused to plead guilty. His case was continued over 28 times while Kalief waited at Rikers. During that time, he spent 14 months in solitary confinement and was captured on film being beaten by guards. The accuser in Kalief’s case never came to court, and all charges against him were dropped. Solitary confinement has permanent and devastating effects, and Kalief was no exception. Kalief was released, but he struggled with mental health issues caused by his time at Rikers, especially his time in solitary confinement. He took his own life in 2015.
It’s unfortunately too late for my son, Kalief, but it will definitely benefit other youth so they won’t have to endure what my son did.” – Venida Browder
Before Kalief’s death, he was the subject of an article in the New Yorker by Jennifer Gonnerman. Kalief’s story raised national awareness about injustices in the criminal justice system and the shocking prevalence of solitary confinement. Kalief and his family also sued the police, the prosecutors, and Rikers for keeping him locked up and in solitary confinement. He was interviewed on Huff Post Live in 2013 with his attorney, Paul Prestia.
After seeing the New Yorker article, Sean “Jay-Z” Carter met with Kalief, encouraging him to tell his story. When Jay-Z learned of Kalief’s death, he decidied to ensure that Kalief’s voice was heard. He joined with Spike TV and a group of filmmakers to write and produce TIME. During an October 2016 press conference for the series, Jay-Z spoke specifically about the harms of solitary for young people. “I think it’s very clear that solitary confinement, for a 16-year-old, is wrong to every single person in here,” the Brooklyn rapper said. “It’s inhumane.”
Kalief’s mother, Venida Browder, was a powerful advocate for her son. Unfortunately, she passed away just days after the press event in October 2016. Ms. Browder emphasized the need for action so Kalief’s life was not lost in vain. Now Kalief’s siblings are carrying on this legacy as vocal advocates for reforming the New York justice system. Below, Akeem, Deion, and Nicole Browder support their brother at a Washington, DC screening.